The Return of Frames

20 years in the web design business has allowed me to see a lot of change.

So, who remembers frames? You know that clunky, multi-document approach to leaving branding and navigation in place while the user scrolled?

I have fond memories of heated debates I had with our team years ago about frames. Believe it or not, I was a fan of the evil technique. I always felt that leaving navigation and branding in place for the user had some real value.

Navigation is essential for guiding users through a site’s content, and an effective and useful navigation must be accessible and intuitive. Frames allowed essential website elements, like branding and navigation, to stay in place while the rest of the website content moved around it. This made it easy for users to find what they were looking for, no matter where they were on a site.

Of course, I was never a designer or developer, so I didn’t have to deal with the nasty details of making a frames site work.  Let alone the mess that they made for the search engines if not done properly.

As it turns out, a little over a decade later, the concept has returned.  Today it’s done by setting a fixed position of elements from within the CSS.  It’s fair to point out that it’s much cleaner this way and doesn’t require the multiple html docs that frames did.

I’d be willing to bet that many who argued vehemently against frames years ago, if they are still web developers today, have either built or will soon build a site with fixed navigation and branding.  They don’t even realize that they are helping to bring back an old technique they once fought so hard against.

Have additional thoughts about the return of frames? We’d love to hear them!

What is the SSL Effect on SEO?

In August, Google announced that having a HTTPS site will help your site’s SEO. Further information revealed that this new SSL ranking signal would be slightly less significant compared to quality content. In response to this announcement, Raven Tools co-founder Jon Henshaw has encouraged internet marketers to test this switch before jumping into a fully HTTPS site.

Making the transition from HTTP to HTTPS is not as simple as adding an extra letter to the URL. It requires adding a SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), which is generally found on e-commerce sites or others that offer secure transaction pages. Switching a site to HTTPS has some heavy SEO obstacles.

Henshaw gives nine steps to follow in transitioning a WordPress site to HTTPS. Outside of the difficulty of obtaining private keys and certificates, there are a number of other obstacles to hurdle over in maintaining SEO. It’s important to first understand that HTTP sites and an HTTPS sites are considered to be different sites, not extensions of one another. Next is the need to redirect traffic from the old HTTP site to the new HTTPS site. Enter the wonderful process of de-indexing. The old HTTP pages will need to be removed, which luckily, Google will do once your new redirects are set up. This will take care of the regular HTTP, or non-secure, pages.

One last tip from Henshaw is that he doesn’t recommend switching to an HTTPS site if your site is performing well and bringing in a large volume of conversions. This secure site SEO factor is another best practice to be added to a lengthy list that online marketers need to address, or at the very least be aware of.

What does this mean for your site?

Don’t panic if your site is not entirely HTTPS. As with many other changes to SEO best practices, which change constantly, you won’t want to jump straight on the wagon. Take some time to evaluate the process involved in switching from a site in HTTP to HTTPS. Make sure any kinks are worked out of the process if you decide to switch. Have a plan of action (see above steps from Jon Henshaw). How intensive will it be for your site? If your website is new, you may want to go ahead and start the transition as this change would be easier to make, and you won’t have to make the change once your site is established in organic Google searches.

I agree with Henshaw when he makes a point about successful sites with high traffic and goal completions not needing to make an immediate switch. Though being proactive is not a bad thing:

  • Are you creating a new signup feature? Make sure it is secure.
  • Are all of your e-commerce transaction pages already HTTPS? If not, that’s a change you need to make.

How does SSL effect SEO?Security needs for your site are directly related to how much information you are collecting. If the main goal of your site is only to push content, you have much less of a need for security additions; however, if you are collecting a range of personal information or credit card info, you absolutely need secure pages.

Be sure to watch your website’s statistics in the coming months. Is there suddenly a sustained loss in organic traffic? Have you noticed a dip in overall site performance? If you are having these issues, it would be worth evaluating the switch to HTTPS.

Image Source URL: http://www.softsystemsolution.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/HTTPS-Secure-Socket-Layer.png

Creating an Effective Lead Generation Website

Lead GenerationWhile creating a lead generation website may seem like a relatively easy endeavor in today’s ever-changing world of digital mobility, creating a truly effective lead generator requires a collaborative, strategic approach on the part of both the client and development resource.

The client has a great deal to do with the success of any web project.  The first sign of success is for the client’s entire team to embrace the belief that a great website is of strategic importance to the future growth and prosperity of the business. Client commitment to the project leads to a collaborative effort that realizes greater impact in user experience and effective messaging.

Purpose

Lead generation has become a soft, generic term, but in a real lead generation website, every page has a distinct purpose. When considering your site’s information architecture, you need to ask the question, “What do I want people to do on this page? What is the end result I’m trying to achieve with this content?’ In doing so, you define a collection of ‘related links’ which may change on each page, relative to that page’s content.

Calls-to-Action

The first key to creating an effective lead generation site is leading the user to the desired category or page on your site. Once there, the second key is directing the user to a call-to-action (CTA) while on the page. CTAs can appear in a variety of trackable formats such as content links (white papers, video links), form submissions, email contacts and designated phone numbers. All of the above CTAs are implemented with a common objective—to obtain desired lead contact information for the purpose of ultimately converting an interested lead into a customer.

Mobility

The world of mobile devices continues to grow in popularity and usefulness. Implementing effective lead generation practices into mobile devices does not happen automatically. Responsive design, the facility for a website to reconfigure itself depending on the viewing device, requires careful design consideration in crafting a user experience that works well on all mediums.

Content Structure

Successful content marketing begins with an effective content structure for each section of the website. This structure is designed through a series of unique ‘page templates’ representing different types of content. For each page template, it is important to carefully consider the audience and the path on which you’d like to guide them. Each content structure, and the content it houses, is designed to optimize search results.

Video and Imagery

It is well documented that people read less and respond more to image-based content. In fact, statistics support the position that video attracts as much as 300% more traffic and has a greater impact in nurturing leads. As such, incorporating video and related imagery leads to an improved user experience, thus enhancing the potential for lead generation.

Brand Image

Last but not least is the significance of brand image. The challenge that most companies face is that they try to say too much, particularly on the home page. If you approach the navigation process in a purposeful way on every page, the home page does not have to bear all the weight of the site. Think in terms of having every page on your site designed to engage the user.

Take a look at your website. Are you implementing these lead generation principles to effectively engage your audience?

Image credit

Microsoft’s Move to Cross-Platform Development

Satya NadellaMicrosoft recently shocked and excited developers with a few major announcements. They are open-sourcing the ENTIRE .Net server stack, and creating officially supported versions that will run in Linux and Mac server environments. Everyone was taken aback by this because just a few years ago then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously said that “Linux is a cancer.” Ballmer stepped down earlier this year and Satya Nadella is now leading the company. His quick and decisive actions to make Microsoft technology obtainable to many platforms shows this is a new Microsoft and it’s worth revisiting what Microsoft has to offer.

There is no doubt that this move is designed to keep Microsoft relevant in a world that is no longer ruled by PC operating systems. Developers have many choices of languages and environments and by open sourcing .Net, Microsoft hopes to keep their cloud platform (Azure) competitive by increasing the flexibility of its developer technology.

This move worked for them in the past, and I see no reason why it won’t work today. Back in the early DOS days, Microsoft catered to developers because they knew without compelling applications to run, their operating system would become useless and irrelevant to the end user. Their efforts to create tools and technology developers wanted to use resulted in a world at one point saw over a billion people using Windows and countless applications daily.

Putting my Microsoft fan boy status aside for a moment, it seems to me that as a developer I can more effectively create products and solutions that take advantage of a single platform than I could by trying to create the same solutions multiple times depending on what server the finished product will run on. I know this type of thinking is exactly what Microsoft is hoping for, but I’m only one developer. Time will tell if this bet pays off for them in the long run.

We will be trying out .Net and Linux in the coming months. There will be benchmarks, and testing if it really is a “write once, run anywhere” promise finally fulfilled. Stay tuned to learn what we find.

Satya Nadella image courtesy of Microsoft

3 Ways to Tell a Marketing Company is Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke - Mirrors_700There are a lot of reasons for a business to outsource online marketing duties. Whether it is manpower, talent or the idea of the Google algorithm that makes your brain want to explode, we get it. But before you sign on the dotted line, do your homework.

There are some marketing companies out there who do a good job of using confusing jargon and the phrase “we’re working on behind the scenes stuff, you don’t need to worry about that” to glaze over a client’s eyes. When you hire a marketing firm, you should be hiring into a partnership. You should expect the same type of communication and back and forth that you would get from your employees. Here are three ways to tell that the marketing company you’re working with is all about the smoke and mirrors.

  1. They talk in code (sometimes literally). Reading a report from your marketing company shouldn’t require Rosetta Stone. Sure, there are some terms that marketers might need to throw out here and there, but they should also come with an explanation. If your reports appear to be written in Sanskrit with no translation, someone might be pulling the wool over your eyes.
  2. Everything is a secret. You hired the firm and you should expect transparency. These are your dollars being spent, so you should be privy to how many hours you are being billed for, how long certain projects take, and what end product you received. And speaking of projects, don’t be afraid to ask for a project timeline or how the company tracks and bills work hours.
  3. There are no numbers to back up the results. “The campaign is doing great! You should be seeing leads now. Your phone must be ringing off the hook!” Those things very may well be happening, but are they the result of the work of your marketing company? Your monthly reports should come with real numbers … numbers that you have access to view using a Google Analytics account. The great thing about web marketing is that just about any click on your site, email blast, or PPC ad can be tracked. Ask for numbers and educate yourself by taking a high level crash course on Google Analytics (shameless plug, something that TKG offers periodically).

Just remember, before you sign into a marketing contract, ask some questions. Learn up front what kind of reports you can anticipate seeing and don’t be afraid to ask them to cut the jargon!

Image Credit

Starting a Career at TKG

Before I even started at The Karcher Group, many of my friends told me that I had made an excellent choice and that I would love working for TKG. I kind of already knew that from stalking the company on social media, so those were only affirmations of what I already believed.

After meeting a couple dozen people, getting settled at my desk, filling out a novel of paperwork, and finding important things like the ladies’ restroom and the coffee machine; I was gifted with my very own fancy TKG binder for meetings. Very cool.

On my first day, I got to sit down with Kyle and discuss the numbery, data-y things that he does. Later in the day I attended a TKG Continued Learning session where I sat down with several of my co-workers and learned about the kinds of things Jon does when evaluating the efficacy of our clients’ websites.

I have to say, there were a few rocky moments on Day 2 with my some of my fellow content team members. It seems we are divided on the use of the Oxford comma. Other grammarphobes will surely understand this dilemma. I think it’s going to take me a while to adapt to the TKG style of no Oxford comma.

Overall, I’ve really just been soaking it all in. I am surrounded by so many intelligent people who are interested in having the daring conversations and trying new things and implementing new ideas. It’s refreshing and encouraging. The spirit of collaboration becomes more and more apparent in each meeting I attend; in each conversation I have. I am fortunate that I have had the opportunity to meet with different people from different departments so I can learn a little bit about what they do and how everyone works together. It is so apparent that every person I have met genuinely enjoys the work that he or she does and it really makes a difference.

As a former English major, I find myself to be incredibly lucky to have found a place where I can use my writing skills every day and I am very excited to stretch my wings and start my writing career at The Karcher Group.

Get Inspired (and Learn Something New)

When you catch yourself staring at a blank screen, unable to generate ideas, where do you get your inspiration from?

Often times, I take myself out of my digital environment and look to physical products that are built to solve problems or provide solutions for people and study what goes into them.

When planning a website redesign, it’s difficult not to rely on the re-use of features from a previous project. While this inherently has benefits (employing solid, user-tested patterns for features like searching and product list sorting), it can feel like a crutch. Seeking out fresh ideas in the vastness of the inter-webs can even prove trying even for the seasoned developer.

codropsRecently, I happened upon Codrops, a website full of articles, tutorials and demos for web developers and became inspired initially by its fresh perspective on traditional website features.

After looking through several of the demos, I was drawn to continue looking. In addition to the entertaining topics focused on user experience and interaction design, the articles are well written for quick comprehension. The website features do rely on the latest technology available in web browsers, which is increasingly becoming the norm, so it’s good to be looking ahead.

arrowI’m compelled to share this with you so that you can be inspired too. The demos are presented in a simple way that allow you to browse from one to the next (just jump in here and continue navigating with the arrows – which is a great user experience in itself).

Perhaps when it comes to redesigning your website next with TKG, looking for additional ideas here will allow you to contribute in the selections used in making your website an engaging and effective solution for your visitors.

So long, blank screen.

5 Facebook Tips for Small Businesses

It’s no secret that the Facebook algorithm–more and more designed to ensure that companies don’t get to advertise for free on the platform–has hit small businesses and pages hard.

The problem is, for small businesses, budget for Boosts and paid ads is likely non-existent (which is likely why you turned to Social Media as a way to communicate in the first place). And after playing with numerous “grass roots” workarounds it’s easy to feel like your page has turned from an effective tool to a nuisance.

But go revisit that page, Small Business Owner, and rebuild it. Here are 5 great tips to “beat the system.”

  1. TAGS

You’ve already figured out that your page posts will not reach every single person who “Likes” you. By employing tags, you garner new views from people who have probably never heard of you (yet), or have heard of you, but aren’t one of the lucky ones who organically receive your posts.

Tags can involve people, places, and things already available on Facebook, and depending on a user’s privacy settings, go right to the tagged user’s page. It’s like the stationary version of one of those dancing flipboard guys!

hashtag comedy

  1. PICTURES

We love professional photographers. We really do. But nothing drives a page like Kaitlin–who happens to work for you–and her 40 photos she took with her iPhone of your event, product or service.

People LOVE to see pictures of themselves featured on a Social Media page. And when they see those pop up after attending your event, or interacting with your product, or happily smiling after a completed service, others see them too, which gives your page more views.

Separate albums for separate dates or events are an easy way to direct people to your page. Ask customers to tag themselves or tag their friends to create a fun sense of community.

pictures

  1. VIDEO

If there’s any way you can take video of what your page represents, you should definitely do so. Video is the best way to showcase what your brand allows to people who have never experienced what you have to offer.

Pro tip: when it comes to video, the shorter the length, the better. Anything video recorded should be between 6 seconds and a minute. Anything over a minute has the tendency to be overlooked (and yes, you can see if your visitors actually watched to the end of your video, as shown in the stats pictured below).

video stats

  1. #HASHTAGS

Before you let out the obligatory groan, hashtags are actually being integrated into Facebook more and more. The problem with hashtags is that they are not always used properly (and that’s probably why you gave that obligatory groan).

Make sure your hashtags are short and relevant to your post. #thisisnotanappropriatehashtag. Example: Search the hashtag #nintendo. Any search done on the internet or internally about Nintendo will automatically be grouped into the search results, giving your page’s post more of a chance to get a “hit” (view). The more clever you are with the grouping of your hashtags, the better.

hashtags

  1. ENLIST

Before the Internet, there were TV Commercials and newspaper spreads, and then those spread via word of mouth or became a part of the collective pop culture conscious (Cha-Ching, anyone?).

However, people are now entrusting the Internet (and sometimes solely the Internet) to carry their brand message for them. This is where it’s imperative to have a “Gang of Maniacs” (loose term) to be core supporters of your brand online, especially if you’re trying to build a presence on Facebook.

Start with your friends and family, especially if they fit your core demographic and support your mission. Then identify fans that are vocal online supporters. Reach out to a group of 5-10 and specifically ask them, individually, to support and share your Page and its content.

Many times you won’t even need to ask, but you’d be surprised by just how much this “Gang of Maniacs” wants to help and support you and your efforts online. And each time they Like and Share, they create more exposure for your Page, thereby short-circuiting that pesky algorithm.

enlist

No matter which tactics you employ in your overall Facebook marketing, make sure to monitor your analytics and adjust accordingly. Also remember that consistency is absolutely key on the platform, so no matter how you approach content, pick a frequency and stick to it.

5 Content Calendar Tools

If you need me to explain why you need a well-organized content calendar, then you aren’t busy enough. There are countless advantages to using a unified, easy to use, easy to access calendar to organize your team (for instance, ours is making me painfully aware of just how late I am in getting this post written – thanks, calendar!). So let us assume that you know that, and move directly into helping you find one.

Whether you are starting from scratch, or looking to improve upon the mess you are currently working with (Post-It notes on a white board = mess), your options are practically limitless. So let us get you headed in the right direction by introducing you to some of the more popular tools currently available.

wordpress plugins - content calendar toolsWordPress Plugins: Are you using WordPress? Are you looking for an editorial calendar? Wouldn’t it then make sense to try the WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin? If you are looking for more advanced features such as automatic postings to social media and advanced team coordination tools, CoSchedule is a much more flexible plugin, though it comes with a monthly fee.

Trello: Boring gridlines and calendar layouts not your thing? Trello gives you a whiteboard interface that is more project management in its approach than editorial calendar (though it offers a “Calendar” view). This can be a life saver if you are trying to coordinate a large team, and the ability to see the status of all pending assignments in one view is incredibly useful. The basic service is free, and a paid Business Class version is also available for those looking for beefier security and administrative tools.

Excel and Google Docs: Both are convenient and simple ways to set up your own content calendar. If you want some help getting started, the internet is riddled with templates for you to pick from. Literally riddled. You can’t swing a cat meme without hitting one. Just pick one that closely matches your workflow, make a few tweaks, and off you go.

Need more bells on your whistles? Fine, let’s wheel out the big guns.

ContentDJ: Part content calendar and part content curator, ContentDJ totes itself as “The only editorial calendar built for the social media age”. It has everything you need to find, assign, post and track content to your website and social media platforms. The depth of this tool, and the price tag that comes with it, will be overkill for many. But if finding share-worthy content and having extensive, detailed tracking of all social media engagement are critical pieces of your business, this will give you everything you need.

Kapost: If you want to completely tie your content in with the rest of your marketing efforts, you’ll want to give Kapost a try. It has everything you’d expect from a high-end content tool: automatic publishing, extensive project management, advanced tracking, etc. But it really shines in integrating your content into your overall marketing strategy. You can attach content pieces to specific campaigns or prospective clients for easy tracking. A searchable library of all content you publish anywhere is available to everyone in your organization. Leads generated from each piece of content are tracked, tying what you publish directly to your sales pipeline. It’s a bit much if you are just managing a website and a few blogs, but larger companies will really benefit from the powerful and diverse tools offered here.

Do you currently use one of these tools? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!

A Thank You to the TKG Team

thank youAt The Karcher Group, we take pride in delivering the highest quality work to our clients every day. It’s not always an easy task to accomplish, but if everything was easy, we wouldn’t be busy, right?

I believe our success in delivering this level of quality (and in making it look easy!) really boils down to one important ingredient: Teamwork.

Teamwork isn’t just something we talk about at TKG; it’s something we consider and adjust for with every project we take on.

The staff at TKG is split up into multiple teams, big and small, in order to accomplish daily tasks. Together, as one large team, we all have the same goal of meeting and exceeding our client’s expectations. Each team member has specific responsibilities as a part of a smaller, specialized team, but no one works in a vacuum. We all share in successes and failures (no one is perfect) as a larger team.

A strong team will have a deep bench, and that is what we have built at TKG. I believe it is vital to our team structure. Redundancy can be a luxury for a small business our size, but our structure allows us to accomplish big things. What we have built enables us to achieve our goals while becoming a trusted partner to our clients.

We strive to be involved at the decision-making level to be able to help our clients make the right choices for their business. We find that our clients truly appreciate this approach, and we strive for it more and more every day. Again, we believe it is successful because it is backed by a strong team with a deep bench.

Having said all this, my intention here was not to try to convince anyone that TKG invented the concept of teamwork. My intention is to give my team – and in fact the whole team here at The Karcher Group – a word of thanks for all their hard work. We will always have room to grow and find ways to improve, but we have built a quality team here that does fantastic work. And this is my opportunity to publicly acknowledge that hard work, and say thanks.

Image Credit

This entry was posted in At TKG.