Tag Archives: web development

Programming Challenges are With Me Everywhere I Go

image_712016 is shaping up to be a big year in the life cycle of Apoxe.   After letting some competing technologies battle for supremacy its time to re-evaluate the winners, methods, and techniques and vet them against core fundamentals of what Apoxe is so that it can move to the next level.

Taking Apoxe down to the studs so to speak has me excited and anxious to get in there and get geeky.  This reminded me of an article I read a few years ago by Joel Lee that I feel is still relevant and at least for me – reaffirms that I’ve chosen the right profession.  If any aspiring programmers are reading this, I highly recommend you take the time to let the following points sink in.  Its ok, I’ll wait… http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/6-signs-meant-programmer/

Each point made in his article about why you shouldn’t be a programmer rings true for me on some level.  For example, the first point “You Lack Experimental Creativity” made me chuckle because I can think of a few times that I spent hours coding, only to scrap it later because some revolutionary thought came to me later in the day.  I wasn’t that sad to scrap it, instead I was excited to try a different approach.   Or, You Want Normal Work Hours.   Just this past holiday season I was on the couch programming away ideas for Apoxe while kids were watching TV, and I found it very relaxing. Even in church I may have wondered from the sermon thinking about a lingering problem I wanted to solve.  Programming challenges are with me everywhere I go, and most of the time, I’m OK with that.

As I approach 16 years with TKG, and 20 years (holy crap) since building my first websites –  I feel lucky that challenges that got me hooked on programming and web development have been replaced with new challenges to continue to grow – and that the thought of getting in there to solve them continues to motivate me.

Image Credit

Digital Trends to Watch Out for in 2016

Digital Marketing WordsOnline marketing is a constantly changing industry, and with each new evolution comes a host of new challenges and opportunities. That’s why, at the end of each year, we take time to reflect on the year behind us, and think about where our industry is heading.

So as 2015 comes to a close, we’re putting together our list of digital trends that we predict will have the biggest impact in the upcoming year. Read on for an exclusive look into the digital trends projected to shake up 2016:

1. Increasing Need for Marketing Automation

Let’s be honest, most visitors won’t make a purchase the first time they visit your site. That’s because it takes time and repeat exposure to form the kinds of relationships that lead to conversions.

In order to facilitate meaningful relationships in 2016, it will become essential to filter content and tailor your messaging to meet your audience’s needs. Personalized follow-up content goes a long way in establishing relevant touchpoints with your audience, and could make a serious impact on your conversion rates.

2. Immersive, Interactive Content will be King

In 2016, interactive content will become necessary for a successful digital presence. No longer is text-based content enough to tell your story. Without immersive, visual storytelling, your content will simply not be as effective in 2016.

Here’s a particularly compelling example from BuzzStream: In 2013, the most popular pieces of content from both BuzzFeed and the New York Times had something in common. And it was not that they were well-researched, journalistic pieces. They were quizzes. And this trend is not going away. As we move into the New Year, effective content will need to actively engage your audience. Passive content simply won’t cut it.

3. Data Will Help Guide Digital Efforts

Consumer behavior has become increasingly complex in recent history, a trend that we expect to continue into 2016. More sophisticated data analysis will be necessary in the New Year in order to understand this complex consumer behavior and guide digital marketing efforts going forward.

If you’re not thinking about customer relationship management, usability or cross-channel marketing, you’re likely doing your audience and your business a disservice. By understanding the ways in which your users interact with your brand in the digital space, you are much more likely to be successful in your digital marketing efforts.

4. Mobile Marketing is No Longer Optional

The use of mobile marketing will continue to be one of key digital trends in 2016. In order for your website and supporting marketing materials to be effective, they must lend themselves to an easy, streamlined mobile experience.

Trust us; geo-targeting, social advertising and responsive design are not just passing fads. As marketers learn more about the ways users interact with their mobile devices, they will continue to push the envelope of mobile marketing – and it’s important that your business doesn’t fall behind.

From responsive design to social and content marketing, TKG has the skills and resources to help you prepare your online presence for the New Year. Contact a member of our team to discuss your digital needs for the upcoming year.

Have other predictions for 2016’s biggest digital trends? Share them in the comments!

Mobile Only is Foolish

responsiveHas our industry done enough to convince you that a mobile friendly website is important?

In case we haven’t, it is critical.  Here are a few links to make that point clear:

Mobile Only however is foolish. While it’s critical that users can easily access your website on mobile devices, that doesn’t mean that desktops and tablets are not a substantial part of the equation.  Most of us use one or both of those device types every day.  It’s important to make sure your web presence is professional on all devices, not just phones.

When considering options as it relates to making your site mobile friendly, do it professionally.  Don’t let yourself be tempted by very inexpensive or quick and cheap solutions.  As with anything, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing it right.  Remember, this affects how most people will experience your brand for the first time.

Things to avoid when considering mobile site options:

  • Cheap or freeware apps and tools that cannot be customized
  • Tools that interrupt your messaging with their brand i.e.: load screens with the tool’s logo
  • Tools that hide your content behind their domain (yourname.productname.com)
  • Software that looks the same in every application – your brand should stand out

Potential problems caused by low end tools:

  • Branding often limited and inconsistent
  • User experience is poor across multiple device types
  • Content can be hidden from the search engines or associated to other companies. Many of these services also don’t offer you any way to optimize your content or do other marketing-related functions that help make your business successful online.

I understand it’s easy to get excited, want to move fast, and have to go mobile on a limited budget.  Believe me I have seen a lot of products come and go over the years that meet those needs. They go away for a reason.

If you have a solid business that you’re proud of and expect to be around for the long haul, you want to avoid short term mistakes that have long term implications.

Your site needs to be mobile friendly. That is true. But it should also be desktop and tablet friendly.  That’s why professional web designers and developers who understand the big picture leverage responsive design.

Our industry has gotten a bad name with these kinds of foolish apps that make big promises and ultimately cost the consumer. As a digital agency, I believe we have a responsibility to uphold professional standards and look out for the best long-term impact on our clients.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Give me a call at 330-493-6141.

How Can a Small Company Compete with the Giants in the World of SEO?

Search marketing has grown in popularity as online search continues to evolve from a novelty to a standard feature in our everyday lives. Almost every business, big or small and regardless of industry, has a web presence, and everybody is competing for a handful of positions at the top of search-engine results pages.competing with giants

Since larger companies already have millions of inbound links, a lengthy history of content, and a recurring base of online visitors, is it any wonder they generally appear in the top ranking positions when people search for commercial products? Regardless of what industry you’re in, you’ll always have at least one competitor who has been around longer and has allocated more budget and resources to building their visibility in the search engines.

So, how can a small company with limited experience and resources compete with that level of online domination?

Thankfully, SEO is no longer about sheer volume. It’s more about which page or website is the most relevant for the searcher.  Thus, there are several strategies that can give a small company the edge over the giant competitor.

  • Specialize in a niche – One of the best things you can do as a small company is give yourself a niche focus. If you pour all your effort into one or a handful of keywords, you’ll be able to achieve a much higher visibility than if you have a wide range of keywords and your relevance for each of them is somewhat low.
  • Leverage locality for optimization – Another way to beat the competition is by targeting a much more local audience. Local search is becoming more relevant and more important, so in today’s context, being the best widget maker in Cleveland is far better than being a so-so widget maker on a national scale. Even if your company does operate on a national, or even international level, you can still capture a niche market share and edge out your competitors in at least one key area by optimizing for a specific local area.
  • Personalize your social engagement – Aside from local search optimization, you can also increase your chances of overcoming larger competitors by stepping up the ‘personal’ factor in your brand strategy. Large companies can lose a portion of their personality once they hit a certain point in their growth, but being small and nimble can be an advantage in giving each follower a more personal experience.
  • Become a recognized content publisher – Building brand awareness, loyalty, trust and credibility requires frequent and quality content publication. Maximize the reach of the content you publish to maximize your return on investment, and be consistent with your publication schedule so you become recognized as a dependable authority.

There’s no shortcut to rise to the top of the search engine rankings, especially when there’s a giant competitor on the scene. But, with a strategy that leverages your geographic location and your agility, you can selectively overcome that giant in specific key areas. Give yourself the best odds by narrowing your topic and keyword focus and increasing your location-specific relevance.

Real Time Responsive Design Test

Responsive Design – it’s not just a buzzword. We’ve written quite a few blog posts on the subject here at TKG. We’ve stressed the importance of providing a powerful, functional web experience whether the user is sitting in front of their PC or in the back of a taxi cab miles away from home.

Chances are if you are already working with an online marketing firm, you know whether or not your website is, in fact, responsive. But for the small business owner who doesn’t have a bevy of web experts at their disposal, this can be a tricky question.

Enter the Mobile Web Transmogrification Portal! The what? Transmog is a simple tool that generates a real-time working preview of your website as it would appear on various mobile devices. Preview options include the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy S3.  Simply plug your URL into the tool and choose the display choice. You can toggle through the different display types and click through to any page on your website. The display updates real time so you can see whether your entire site is responsive or if your homepage is the only piece that is user-friendly.

TransMogScreenCap

We’ve captured a few examples of what a nice, responsive website looks like on the iPad and Galaxy using this tool. Give it a try! If you aren’t pleased with what you see on the display, you know where to find us!

TransMog Responsive Test - iPad TransMog Responsive Test - Galaxy

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!

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

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.

Important Responsive Design Tips

PrintEvery responsive site is a fluid and dynamic creation, so it can be difficult to get a handle on even the basics of responsive design. Luckily, there are a few general tips and techniques that serve as the foundation for nearly every responsive project.

Follow these important responsive design tips and you will be on your way to developing mobile and tablet-friendly websites:

Mobile First
A mobile-first approach to responsive design allows you to prioritize content for mobile devices and work your way up to larger desktop displays. This mobile-first approach ensures that your audience sees the most important content first, no matter what device they’re using.

Content Strategy
The goal of responsive design is to offer the best user experience possible, on all devices. A website redesign is the perfect time to rework your content and make it more readable, valuable and accessible. This emphasis on content strategy shifts the focus of your website development back to the needs of the user and their unique online behaviors.

Initial Design
Once you have a content strategy in place, begin crafting a rough website design on a responsive sketch sheet. The various screen sizes, resolutions and device capabilities available today mean more layouts to plan for. By using a tool designed specifically for responsive design, you can refine your ideas and lay your site’s framework before you begin the actual site development.

Framework
While choosing a CSS framework is mainly a matter of individual preference, incorporating one into your responsive design process offers a number of benefits. A framework can help speed up the development process, reduce browser compatibility issues and streamline your responsive design.

Breakpoints
Once you’ve selected a framework for your site, you must set breakpoints to signal the transition between devices. Some developers set breakpoints based on common screen sizes, but that practice does not totally embrace the flexible and adaptable potential of responsive design. Explore your design to find natural breaks in your content. That’s where you should set your website’s breakpoints.

Scalable images
Images present serious challenges for responsive designs because they need to be fluid enough to adapt to a website’s viewports and text sizes. Resources like adaptive images, CSS sprites and jQuery plugins are available to scale images and interactive media, so you don’t have to worry about warped or disproportionate assets.

If you would like more information about responsive design strategies, contact the development experts at TKG. And don’t miss out on our Breakfast Bootcamp on Oct. 16, where we’ll discuss even more tips and techniques for responsive design.

Putting Google Analytics to the Test with Custom URL Tracking

A recent challenge came up recently with TKG’s custom Content Management System, Apoxe.  As the “chief” developer of Apoxe, it was both interesting and educational to me to see just how flexible Google analytics can be with collecting data.

First, a little background of Apoxe. Our CMS contains logical folders of pages but does not show that structure in the address bar.  This simply means that as an admin of a website, you are able to nest pages under pages and create the following navigation structure of “Web Development” -> “Lead Generation Websites” -> “Manufacture Websites” shown below:

Apoxe

The end user is able to then land on the “Web Development” page, see the “Lead Generation Websites” in the navigation, click it, and then see “Manufacturer Websites.” This series of clicks however does not reflect itself in the actual URLS:

Instead of something like:

This lent itself to a potential problem for a client recently who wanted to track traffic in a specific area of their website using Google Analytics.  If “/web-development” was part of every URL in the “web-development” folder that task would be easy.   After exploring a number of different options ranging from a ton of 301s,  to modifying how our CMS builds its URLs, to calling each other names,  we discovered that Google lets us pass it our own data called “Custom Variables” that Google then uses as way to setup custom filters.  From the instructions, we were able to name a variable, then simply pass it a value.

What value could we pass that would be both dynamic, and constant across all sub-pages for a given section? That’s easy – the link text from the second link in that pages bread trail.

Breadcrumb

This series of links showing where you are in the site are built from Apoxe’s logical folders and any page under that branch will always contain the same value as its “starting point.” A solution that is simple, elegant, and future-proof? We call that an all-around win.