Category Archives: Web Design

Page Speed Matters

website speed matters

There is more to web design than arranging content on the page.   Unfortunately, there are many web designers (and I use that phrase loosely), that rely upon tools such as WordPress or other web-builder platforms for every site they create.  Ask them to create a site from scratch in html, CSS and JavaScript and they wouldn’t have the faintest idea where to start.

Why does this matter?

Web-builder platforms are the “Swiss army knives” of web design. They come with a multitude of features and functions; of which many are rarely, if ever, used. However, because they are in place, the browser must download the resources associated with this feature even if it doesn’t get used in a site. Additional JavaScript files, extra CSS files etc all increase the number of requests the browser has to make to the server, slows down render time and ultimately delays the point at which the user can see and interact with a website.

Even in these days of super-fast broadband (for those lucky enough to have it), 4g mobile networks, wifi hotspots in almost every cafe and coffee shop, site speed is still a vital metric for any web designer.

If your site is identical in content to another site (unlikely I know) but the other site loads more quickly, it is almost a given they will appear above you in Google search results. No one wants to wait and that includes the search engines themselves!

AliExpress reduced load times by 36%…, helping to increase orders by 10.5% and conversion rates by 27%

Sites that load quickly tend to get more traffic, retain people on the site and, as in the case of Aliexpress above, do more business.  For every additional second your site takes to load you could be losing significant numbers of potential visitors to your site.

95 out of 100 on Google page speed testFollowing some adjustments to the QD Design site, we now score 95 on the Google Developers Page Speed Checker. Whilst no doubt we could improve upon this further, it puts us in the top few % for page loading speed.

Slower sites can be attributed to poor or outdated coding, bloated or un-required files being called by the browser, unoptimised images as well as whole host of factors associated with the server. Taking advantage of server side (GZIP) compression, browser caching or setting a character set for a page can all be done via the .htaccess file that sits in the root of the web server.

This is the sort of knowledge and expertise that only a true web developer will have. If you want / crave a fast loading site, then you need to speak with someone that really knows what they are doing behind the page and not just manipulating text and pictures in a drag and drop page builder.

QD Design consistently make fast loading html based sites that help businesses reach their audience as quickly as possible.  If your site is lacking that “va va voom”, then get in touch, we can analyse what is holding it back, and help you get off the brake pedal and onto the throttle!

Business Ethics and Web Design

A question was posed on Quora recently about scams from purported “web designers”. I have always taken business ethics very seriously and recognise that my customers have a choice over whether they use me or someone else.  I felt compelled to give an answer to this question.
Whether you would call some of these true ‘scams’ or just shady practices all comes down to your level of business ethics. To me, these are all deceitful and deliberate attempts to  mislead the customer.

Offshoring the work but not telling the customer

Offshoring work but using local contact details such as a local phone number, business address to make out that the business is located close by. For a lot of business owners the fact they can pick up the phone to speak with or arrange to meet face to face the designer of their website is important. Hiding the the fact that the work is actually being done thousands of miles away in a different time zone by people who are freelancers is definitely suspect.
Business offshoringShould the business owner want to update their website, unless the freelancer has done a good job of marking up and commenting their code, who ever has the task of unpicking the existing code to make changes has a harder job on their hands.

Fake reviews and testimonials

Fake reviews and testimonials. I don’t mean ‘the friend you asked to favourably review your web design business in exchange for a few beers’, type of thing. I know of one web design agency close to me that have created an entirely fictitious person, business and backstory in order to create a review on their website. It is elaborate, detailed and a complete falsehood. If they will go to the effort of creating a fake testimonial for themselves, what else are they prepared to make up or be creative about?  I wrote in greater depth on this story in Sharp Practices by Web Designers.

Cookie Cutter Site development

 ‘Cookie cutter’ web site development. There is a marketing firm not far from me that advertise their ability to create websites for incredibly low prices. It is only when you look at the output they have created that you recognise a startling similarity between all their sites. They have used the same web-builder tool for all of them and worse than that, they have used an identical template for all sites.  Every site they produce is a clone of the last.
Web site clonesThe only differences being background colors, text, logos and any images. The layouts, menus and structure are identical. They have taken a tool the business owner could have used themselves, dropped in the content (no doubt created by the business owner) and have the cheek to call themselves ‘web designers’.

Unethical SEO Services

SEO Services. There are some genuine and professional SEO service providers out there. They seem to be outnumbered by the scammers and crooks who promise “top ranking in Google” or “first page in all search engines”. For the business owner who knows little about how the search engines work (and let’s face it, that is most business owners) but is keen for their business to grow, these sort of promises sound ideal. Of course what the SEO scammer does not say, is that the top ranking is either for the most obscure ‘long tail key word’, or achieved through dubious means. The former has no meaningful impact on the business since very few searches are made for that ‘long tail key word’ whilst the latter has a dramatic effect upon their business once the search engines punish the site for employing suspect methods to raise its ranking.

Inflating Prices

Over charging. The situation that comes to mind most readily is the web design agency that says they can handle domain registration and / or hosting. They then massively inflate the costs incurred when invoicing the customer. I’ve seen bills for hundreds of dollars for registering a domain or hosting it.web agencies that overcharge
When you investigate where it is being hosted, it is easy to see that the real price is around $60 / year. Meanwhile the customer is being charged $500. In my view this is taking advantage of the customers lack of knowledge to make a fast buck.

To me, as a web designer / web developer, integrity is everything. I need and want my customers to trust me and heed the well given advice I offer them. To be less than 100% honest at all times risks damaging that hard earned trust. I want the relationship with my customers to be a partnership that stands the test of time; treating them as idiots or ‘cash cows’ to be milked feels plain wrong.

WordPress – How to Change the Number of Dashboard Columns

This has been bugging me for weeks.

I tend to use a single decent sized monitor for most of my web design work.  On it, every WordPress install gives me two columns of very large dashboard blocks that makes appallingly poor use of the available space.  So much so that with a number blocks expanded to their full size, much of the information is off the bottom of the screen meaning I have to scroll down for it.  Sort of negates the idea of a ‘dashboard’ if you have to go looking for the info.

I do have one site that for some reason has three columns and it made much better use of the available space.  I wanted to recreate this on my other installs but couldn’t find out how.  I searched every control in the menu structure, looked at the code that drove the dashboard but nothing came up.  How on earth did this one site have three columns and not two?


Prior to WordPress 3.8 there was an option to choose the number of columns present in the dashboard but 3.8 saw this disappear.  Admittedly, there are plug ins that allow you to take control over the dashboard but I’ve discovered something easier, simpler and so obvious I’ve been kicking myself since I found it.

Most browsers allow you to zoom in / out.  On my personal favourite browser – Chrome (and I’m pretty sure it is the same in others too), it is CTRL + / CTRL –
Well, if you zoom out to 90%, such a small change in font size you will barely notice it, it gives just enough room to fit three columns across the dashboard. Voila, everything in view, all at the same time and no need to scroll.

Give it a try. If you have a reasonable amount of space on screen when working on a WordPress site, why not make the best use of it.

Sharp Practices by Web Designers

Recently, I noticed in my Facebook feed the name of a local web designer that was new to me.  Being curious and wanting to keep abreast of the competition, I looked them up.  I was disappointed to discover they had adopted a number of tactics that were clearly pushing the boundaries of what could be described as honest.

It got me thinking, I am the only web designer that is entirely truthful on my site and in my marketing?

So, what was this new entrant doing that was misleading and potentially dishonest?

Their Facebook ad looked like this…

Taken at face value (as many potential customers will do), this is  an unbelievable bargain.  Even outsourcing to the cheapest and least skilled offshore supplier imaginable, there is no way a ‘professional’ website could be created for £49.  And of course, it isn’t true.  Following the link to their website reveals that the real cost is £49 per month (oh and on top of that there is an ‘initial set up’ fee of £199 as well).

Assuming the business maintains the website for five years, it will have really cost an eye watering £3139 before any VAT / sales tax has been added.

Secondly, the business in question had a glowing testimonial from a garage owner who seemed delighted with the service provided.  It sounds as if the new website had already born fruit and was bringing in new business.  Oddly, there was no link to the site in question which seemed peculiar given the situation.  Stranger still, a search on Google for Prestfield Motors returned no matches whatsoever.  In fact, there were no matches for Kenny Sinclair and the motor trade in Edinburgh.  Zero, nil, zilch, zip.

It was a fake testimonial from a fake business alleging benefits that were utterly fake.  It got me wondering who was in the picture, was this really Kenny Sinclair or was he a fake too?

Of course he was a fake!  Using the ever so handy Google Reverse Image Search facility revealed that ‘Kenny’ is a prolific chap.   He appears on a hair loss website in South Africa, an Arizona skin clinic site, a UK house sale site as well as countless social media sites.‘So what’ I hear you say, don’t we all embellish the truth a bit?  Well, yes and no.  It depends on how far you take the embellishment.  In this case, the deliberate attempt to mislead on pricing is pretty close to the widely discredited and highly disliked technique of “bait and switch“.  The use of a stock image in a testimonial whilst you are awaiting a photo from the customer is understandable but deliberately creating a fake identity, a fake business and a whole fake story to sell your services is downright dishonest.  As soon as a potential customer realises your claims are unfounded they should begin to question everything you say.

For example, is your support as good as you claim?  Is your uptime really as high as you indicate?  Are you truly based in the local area or are you a front for a “pile it high, sell it cheap” offshore operation?

It is all about credibility.  Most customers do not want to do business with a firm that feels it is OK to deliberately mislead and be dishonest on their website.  Why would you trust a firm that did this?  After all, if they do this on their own site, there is a good chance they could do it on yours too.

Whatever your line of business, think carefully before making unclear, misleading or entirely false claims on your website.  The consequences will inevitably come back to bite you.

Why DIY websites frequently fail to deliver

Pitfalls of DIY web Design

Recently I participated in a Marketing Seminar at the Business Gateway in Aberdeen, facilitated by the excellent Liz Pirrie.  Listening to the great bunch of people passionately describing their businesses – animal welfare, fitness trainers, payroll services, pollution control consultants, luxury soap manufacturer, the variety was huge – and their hectic days; it was obvious that as a small business owner you have many, often competing, priorities ….

  • Sourcing and managing suppliers
  • Fulfilling customer orders
  • Client / customer communications
  • Product / service development
  • Filing accounts
  • Forward planning and scheduling
  • Updating details in the customer database / CRM
  • Market research
  • IT “housekeeping”
  • Networking
  • Exercise and health
  • Time for family and friends

I was exhausted just listening to them!  It got me thinking, ‘why, when you have so much on your plate already, would you ever would ever consider making your own website’?

It is true, if you require a website for your business, you are faced with a bewildering range of choices.  ‘Doing it yourself’ using one of the apparently “easy to use” template based services can be very appealing.

However, is it such a good idea?  Are there any drawbacks to using a template driven site builder for your businesses website?  Yes there are, and before opting for a DIY template website, here are seven you should be aware of before opting for DIY.

 1.  Learning Curve – The adverts for these services are full of people smiling happily whilst they create an amazing looking website in less time than it takes to rustle up a sandwich. It is largely a con.  As with any tool, working out how to use it, and use it effectively, takes time.  Business owners can often take 40 – 50 hours to learn how to use the web development tool and then craft the finished website for their firm.  Whilst the business owner has been beavering away creating a website, what else could (perhaps more importantly – should) they have been doing?  And, have they truly saved any money by doing it themselves?  Take those 40 -50 hours and multiply by the hourly rate charged to a customer.  They may well find that a professional web designer would have cost them less (and created the site far more quickly) than the business owner has managed to do themselves using a template.time flies

2.  No differentiation – Using a template means that everyone that adopts that tool starts out with the same basic framework. More than likely, the resulting website will resemble each other.  Access to the same font packages, same image galleries and same basic colour schemes all but guarantee a site is going to be similar to other sites derived from the same source.  We all want to stand out, we all want our business to look different; using a template significantly reduces our ability to reflect our businesses true identity in our website.

sheep
Don’t be a sheep and use a template, employ a web designer instead!

3.  User Experience – Whilst a template does allow you to create a website, will it be a good website and will it work for your customers? Most of us make a snap decisions about a product or service in the first few seconds of viewing its website.  Without a good understanding of User Experience (UX) and thus User Interface (UI) design, the business owner employing a template is stuck with the UI and UX that the template builder had in mind.  Poorly placed navigation links, hard to read colour combinations, unresponsive designs will all drive the site visitor back to the search results and onto another site – another potential customer lost.

 4.  Transfer-ability – In many cases, you can’t easily move a site or its contents when it is based on a template service. If the business happens to outgrow the service provided by the template hosts or gets fed up with their less than stellar support, they might discover they are stuck with the template hosts as they are not be able to download their content to go elsewhere.  They are not far short of being a “hostage”!Hostage to the template

5.  Backups – Most templates back up their systems in case of a crash but don’t necessarily protect you from yourself. If you accidentally delete an entire page from your website it may be gone for good.  As an aside, if a site is created in a template it is worth backing it up to your local machine so you have the text and images just in case you remove something important.  Imagine how long it would take to restore an entire page of information, source the graphics you previously used and re-configure the links you had on the page.

6.  Total cost – The template will cost more in the long run. Most templates are based on a monthly fee.  This can be upwards of $25 / £18 per month.  Add that up over a couple of years and compare to site hosting fees.  Over the course of a few years the small business will have spent more than it would have taken to have their site built by a web designer and have it hosted.templates cost you more

7.  Lastly, Value versus Cost – Yes, going down the template route might appear to be cheaper (though you might be questioning this now too) but will the website give the business the Value it needs and requires?  A good website will help to draw customers to a business whilst a poor one might actively turn them away.  Small businesses usually have a very specific goal in mind for their websites.  Attract, engage, retain and convert visitors to customers.  If a site fails at any one of these stages then it clearly hasn’t succeeded as a business tool.  Knowing how to attract, engage, retain and convert visitors is what you are paying the web designer for.

Do your business a favour and don’t trust to luck and a template.  Engage a web design professional to make your business website a success.  It will let you get on with successfully managing your business!

QD Design have been making outstanding websites for smaller businesses and start-ups since 2004.  We know exactly the challenges small business face and can help and advise on the best options for any small business looking to get onto the web.

14 Ways to Increase Website Traffic

The prime purpose of virtually every website is to be a “shop window” to the world.  Most businesses I speak with want to significantly increase the traffic to their web site.  And, once there, they want to covert more of that traffic to active, loyal and long standing customers.  Your “shop window” may be fantastic but if no one stops by to view it, it isn’t doing much for your business.increase-traffic

Here are 14 ways to get more traffic to your site and to convert that traffic more frequently.

1) Easy navigation
Around each page, between pages and back to the home page from any level within the site.  When visitors get lost or confused on a site, they typically go to elsewhere.  The navigation should be obvious and readily accessible from every page on the site.compass-nav

2) Responsive design
Yes, I know this is nothing new but if the visitor on a phone cannot view the site, they will vote with the back button and go elsewhere.  Ensure that everyone, regardless of device, can see your site as you want them to.

3) Compatible and tested with multiple browsers
Whilst you no doubt have a favourite browser, your visitor may use an entirely different platform.  Does your site work equally well in ALL browsers? Did you check this?

4) Page speed
No one likes to wait.  People drift away if the page is slow to load and rarely return to a slow site if they can help it.  There are many tools you can use to evaluate page speed and make improvements to a site  Google Developers Page Speed Test is one we at QD Design use frequently.speedo

5) Dead or broken links
Nothing says “unloved” website more than a broken or dead link.  It is a real turn off for visitors.  Either check your links by hand or use an on line link checker such as Broken Link Check to see if there are any that need updating.

6) Testimonials
Genuine testimonials from real clients can count hugely to converting visitors into customers.  If appropriate, include a video from them talking about your product or service.  This is just about the most powerful advocacy you can get for your business.

7) User interface / user experience
A website has to meet the needs of the visitor / customer and not pander to the whims and desires of the site owner and designer.  A site that is easy to read, easy to navigate and free from irritating distractions will convert many more visitors.  For additional advice on UI / UX, check out this great info from the guys at UX Myths

8) Language appropriate for your audience
Write in their language; avoid jargon, slang and any colloquial phrases that people may not understand.  Always bear in mind that your website is a tool for the visitors and not a vehicle for you to show off.dictionary

9) Answer visitors questions
In other words, try to predict what questions brought them to your site and what information will satisfy them.  If you don’t know, then you may have missed something vital to help convert visitors to loyal customers.

10) About us
Few people want to do business with someone / something they don’t know.  Ensure your site has an ‘About Us’ section that says who you are and what makes you tick. Present your human face to your visitors (you are human aren’t you)!

11) Pricing
Similar to the ‘About Us’ point above, visitors rarely feel comfortable doing business with a firm where the prices are hidden or unclear.  If you can, show your pricing structure openly so it saves any embarrassing moments when the customer realises they cannot afford you / your services.

12) Live chat
When you are providing a service and customers need to interact directly with you, a chat tool is often preferred to e mail as a means to get / give information quickly.  If you have the staff and can run a live chat to engage with customers, you should see a significant increase in customer enquiries made through your website.
chat

13) Simple, short forms
Should you want to create an e mail list then all you really need  from the visitor is their name and email address.  Asking for other data, e.g. street address, phone number, date of birth – I know it is only so you can wish them Happy Birthday on their big day – massively puts people off from signing up as they may have genuine concerns over how that data may be used, shared or stored.

14) Finally, no snarky exit ‘pop ups’
You know the sort of thing, emblazoned across the screen as you go to leave a site is a huge banner saying,  “No thanks, I really don’t want 20 amazing ways to make my life awesome”  When pop ups try to make you feel bad about not clicking a sign up or try to make you feel dumb that you could be missing out on something, they have overstepped the line.  There is a reason why the visitor hasn’t click your button and trying to force them into doing it now probably isn’t going to work.  They will just leave and in most probability, do their best never to come back.

What would you add to the list to get more people to visit your website? Leave your answers below in the comment box.

New website – what next?

New website checklist
Website just gone live, surely it’s time for a break?

You have just completed (or your designer has) your brand new website.  The site is live and after many weeks of frantic effort you can finally take a break, sit back and admire the newly launched site, right?

Wrong!

Unfortunately, the hard work continues; in fact some may say, it has only just begun once the site has gone live!  Any parent will tell you that the birth of a child is just the start of years of effort and commitment during which they see their loved one grow and develop.  A new website is spookily similar (though maybe with fewer sleepless nights and less tantrums)!

In essence, once your website has gone live you need to….

  • Drive traffic to the site to attract new visitors
  • Keep the content fresh to retain existing users and ‘convert’ new users
  • Measure site effectiveness and your marketing progress
  • Improve the site’s user experience

5 Vital Tasks for any New Website

Here is the QD Design checklist for how you can do this once your site has gone live.

  1. Use Social Media to promote the site and bring in traffic.
    Simply launching a site will not automatically bring people to it. You need to promote the site to your users, customers and potential customers through a focused and targeted strategy.  Ask yourself, where do my potential customers typically ‘hang out’ on social media.  Are you there too?
  2. Make it easy for people to share your content.
    You have created some amazing content, with insightful text and great images. social-sharingPlacing Social Media sharing buttons on pages will make it easier for people to share the site and in turn bring others to view it.
  3. Traffic logging.
    You should have set up (or the designer should have on your behalf) some form of traffic logging for the site. Of the many traffic monitors available, the biggest and probably best is Google Analyticslogo-gaNow is the time to begin querying the data it provides.  This can help you see where visitors to your site are coming from, how long they stay for, and at what time of the day the site is most popular.  If you are selling goods and services through the site you can even begin to track how far a visitor gets through the buying process before they abandon – very useful for refining your pricing, your product descriptions or your product promotion.
  4. Develop more content.
    ‘What’, I hear you say, ‘it has taken weeks to develop the new site and you want me to create even more new content’?  Yes, I’m afraid so!  content_developmentGoogle search hugely prefers sites that are up to date and have new content over ones that are static and remain the same month in month out.  Developing new content pleases both the Google search engine as well as your audience. New content is a great reason to contact your audience and promote the site even further.
  5. Optimise the user experience.
    Use tools such as Google Webmaster and their Page Speed Insights to check how quickly the site loads and what you can do to make it even faster. You should already have checked how it works on different sized devices but go through each and every page, top to bottom, ensuring the design does truly work.  code-820275_640Optimize image sizes and the white space around them to ensure that great content isn’t missing from the viewers eye.  Create a list of improvements to work upon come the date of the first site review.

If your chosen designer doesn’t have a process for continually improving your website, are they truly the right person for the job?  There is more to web design than just devising the site itself.  At QD Design we know that the design and deployment is the (relatively) easy part, maintaining and improving the site to achieve your business aims over the long term is where the hard graft is really needed.

QD Design can assist you every step of the journey; get in touch to find out what we can do for you.