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10 Ways to Improve Mobile Usability for Your Website

mobile web design2015 is the year when mobile becomes the preferred way to get online, with the desktop well on its path to being relegated to a relatively small niche in everyday computing. Google also continues to adapt its algorithms in order to deliver a better experience to users of mobile devices by rewarding mobile-friendly websites with greater visibility in mobile searches. Every business website must offer excellent mobile usability for the sake of enhanced search engine exposure, increased conversion rates and more. Consider the following ways to improve mobile usability:

1 - Use a Responsive Theme

If you use a content management system, such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, the quickest and easiest way to make your website mobile-friendly is simply to install a responsive theme. There are many such themes available, and most of them are free and highly customisable. However, while a responsive theme is fine for an informational website, it will rarely be good enough for a full-scale e-commerce website. For an online shop, you'll usually be better off having a completely separate mobile version of the website.

2 - Use a Flat Design

For the last few years, flat, minimalistic designs have been the trend in the world of user interfaces, and websites are no exception. A flat design might not look as imaginative as a skeuomorphic design made to give the impression of a real-world object, but it does emphasise a focus on usability which, after all, is far more important. Flat, minimalistic designs tend to provide a better user experience across all devices, particularly when it comes to the touchscreens of smartphones and tablet computers, and such websites are often faster too.

3 - Configure a Mobile Viewport

One way to make a webpage responsive so that it scales correctly on the small screens of mobile devices is to define the viewport in the page's HTML code. Without a viewport being defined, the webpage will simply be scaled down so that everything is smaller, and this quickly causes problems with readability and usability. You can configure viewports for different screen resolutions and window sizes by using the viewport meta tag. You can find a list of optimal viewport sizes for various mobile devices at viewportsizes.com.

4 - Increase Text Size

When Google analyses your website for mobile usability, they also take into account the fonts sizes that you use. Note that the viewport setting also determines how text is scaled down on mobile devices. Google recommends that you use a font size of 16 CSS pixels for the bulk of the content on your website, although you'll obviously want significantly larger text for more important elements, such as titles and calls to action. For best results, stick to using the default, 'medium' value for the CSS font-size attribute, since this should be fine for content displayed on most devices.

5 - Keep Important Content near the Top

When it comes to landing pages in particular, it is essential that your visitors see the most important information as well as your call to action first. They should never have to scroll down to view essential content, and due to the smaller screens of mobile devices, there are significantly more restrictions in this regard. By using CSS layouts, you can keep your content arranged in order of priority as such that the most important content stays at the top, while the bulk of the page automatically stacks beneath it as the page is scaled down to fit the screen or window.

6 - Use Intuitive Icons

Icons are an important part of website navigation, particularly with regards to mobile devices where on-page space is at a premium. On the other hand, your navigational buttons also need to be large enough to be tap-friendly, so will need to find the right compromise between size and functionality. It is also important to make sure that your icons are intuitive and meaningful in such a way that visitors immediately understand what they do. Always use widely recognised symbols, and stick to flat icon designs to further improve functionality.

7 - Optimise Your Images

Browsing the Internet on a mobile device can still be a sluggish experience, particularly when connected to older 3G networks or busy shared WiFi networks. Additionally, the processing power of mobile devices is orders of magnitude lower than it is with desktop and laptop computers. To ensure that the user experience is not harmed by poor performance, make certain that your images are optimally compressed, and be wary of using high-resolution background graphics and other bandwidth- and processor-intensive visuals.

8 - Avoid JavaScript

Using JavaScript for your website's navigation, like Flash, does nothing more than introduce a whole raft of problems, and it is completely outdated. Mobile devices are largely incompatible with such user interfaces, making content programmed in it completely inaccessible to mobile browsers. Additionally, the search engines are unable to index online content programmed in Flash or JavaScript, so your visibility in the search results will be minimal too. Always stick to HTML, since it provides device-wide compatibility as well as a great deal of versatility.

9 - Limit Text Input

Entering text on a mobile device is still a pain, in spite of great improvements in input methods over the last few years. When mobile users stumble upon a website that requires them to enter any unnecessary information, they'll quickly turn away, and excessively long signup forms are a number-one reason for shopping cart abandonment. Keep the required text input down to an absolute minimum at all times, and both mobile and desktop users will thank you. Similarly, a shorter Web address can also help to increase traffic.

10 - Test Everything

Last, but not least, you should thoroughly test your website across a range of devices, including both tablet computers and smartphones. Google's mobile-friendly test is a good place to start, but there are many other online testing services that allow you to see how your website appears in specific mobile operating systems and on difference device models. However, there is no substitute for thoroughly testing your website on an actual mobile device. Be sure to test multiple mobile browsers and operating systems to determine your website's usability across all devices.

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SEO: Boosting Brand Awareness and Attracting More Qualified Traffic

web trafficIn today's crowded marketplace, SEO is an essential weapon to have in your armory. SEO will help your website and content get found when people are looking for information, products, and services on search engines. Ultimately, the businesses that get it right will appear higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), giving them increased traffic and more potential sales.

What makes one website more popular than another, and how do you ensure your website ranks higher in SERPs? First, you need to understand what search engines are looking for. You need to build a website for search engines as well as your customers. The best way to improve your rankings is to use honest SEO techniques so that search engines can easily crawl your site and understand your content. But there's no quick fix. Don't believe any company that tells you they can get you at the top of search engine results pages overnight.

What Exactly Is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It's the process of getting traffic from "natural" or "organic" search results on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. When it's done properly, it helps your site get seen by search engines and also increases your search rankings.

All the major search engines have search results pages, where they return results based on search queries. Unlike paid search listings like Google Adwords, organic search results are free, which is why it is such a valuable marketing tool. There are many techniques to make sure search engines "understand" your website and see you as a relevant source of content. The trick is to play by the rules, focus on the user experience, and make it easy for search engines to read your site. First, you need to be clear about your ambitions.

What Are Your Business Objectives?

While this may sound like a simple question, many new businesses don't actually know what their long-term goals are, let alone how to achieve them. Having clarity from the outset will limit future frustrations and obstacles, and make sure you're heading in the right direction. Some questions you need to ask yourself are:

  1. Who is your ideal customer?
  2. Where does your ideal customer spend time online?
  3. What are the main benefits of your products and services?
  4. How much can you spend on advertising?
  5. How do you manage your online reputation?
  6. What defines a conversion for you?
  7. What are your long-term marketing goals?
  8. Clear navigation
  9. Fast page load times
  10. Helpful links
  11. Clear calls-to-action
  12. Not too many distracting ads

When you know the answers to these questions, you can develop a consistent marketing strategy that is focused on clear objectives and consistent with your brand's personality. But where do you begin with SEO? Following are some essential SEO strategies to make sure you're on the right track.

Optimize for the Right Keywords

One of the primary ways Google and other search engines measure the relevance of your site is through keywords. Basically, if your content contains the right words, you'll be seen as a better match to certain search queries. One of the best ways to optimize your keyword strategy is by using Google's Keyword Planner. Check for relevant keyword phrases that have relatively low competition, as they're more likely to rank higher in search results. If your keywords are too generic, you're simply going to attract the wrong kind of traffic. If your business serves a specific geographical area, you should optimize your content with phrases that include your local town and surrounding areas.

Focus on Building Quality Links

Calculating the number of quality links that point toward your website is one of the most effective ways for Google to measure the value of your website. Ultimately, backlinks are a vote of confidence for your website. And if higher ranking sites link to your site, your content must be even more valuable. The key to building quality links is to do it organically over time. Using link farms and other spammy techniques will only get your site penalized. If you comment on another blog, only leave a link if it is actually helpful to the audience. Adding your website to directories is fine as long as you stick to the reputable ones. Try to think of your website "earning" links by publishing great content. You can also use Google Webmaster Tools to check for low-quality backlinks and remove them using the disavow tool.

Create Quality Content

Valuable, engaging, and timely content is the most valuable kind of content when it comes to SEO. What makes your business unique? You need to communicate your unique selling proposition so that search engines and users understand why your business deserves attention. If you consistently publish helpful content, you're more likely to gain loyal followers and customers. Search engines also reward sites with rich media content. As well as increasing your website's value with original content, you need to promote your content across other channels such as social media. Find out where your target audience spend their time online and join in the conversation. Since Google's Hummingbird update, social signals are becoming an increasingly important factor in SEO.

Focus on the User Experience

If you don't create a website that people are comfortable using, they will look elsewhere. To make your site more attractive to visitors and to decrease bounce rates, using simple SEO strategies will help. For example:

These factors all improve the user experience and boost SEO. Think about the user at all stages during their visit to your site and you'll keep Google happy.

On-Page SEO

As well as keyword-rich content, try to include keywords within the URL of each page, and also in title tags, heading tags, meta descriptions, and alt image tags. Avoid having duplicate meta descriptions on different pages. Remember they will probably show up as a search result snippet, so make sure they're well-written and attract attention. You need to inform and intrigue readers. Having unique meta descriptions for each page will also help you avoid Google penalties.

Optimize for Mobile

As more and more people are using their mobiles to access the Internet, search engines now reward sites that function well on smartphones, tablets, and desktops. To ensure your website adapts to any device, you'll need to use responsive design. With so many different devices, operating systems, and web browsers, responsive web design is now essential to remain competitive. User behavior also varies across devices. Check your Google Analytics data to see which pages your mobile visitors are viewing the most.

Get to Grips With Analytics

By using Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, and other analytics tools, you can keep an eye on how your website is performing and modify your SEO strategies accordingly. From analyzing your keyword phrases and page visits, to locating poor-quality backlinks and page errors, analytics is key to mastering SEO.

The Bottom Line

It's often said that the quality of your web traffic depends on the quality of your SEO. To maximize your sales potential today, it's essential to follow SEO best practices so that you can attract more qualified prospects to your website and other online properties. There are numerous other SEO techniques you can use, but these suggestions will give you a good return on your investment. Ultimately, to increase your online visibility and reputation, you should focus on the needs of your target audience.

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Web Design: the Foundation of Brand Identity and Growth

web-designThe web landscape changes so rapidly from one year to the next, it's no longer a viable option for businesses to have a simple "brochure" website. An effective website today needs to be a dynamic online platform that communicates your brand identity, helps you attract more leads, and converts more visitors into customers. This can only be done with intelligent web design that embraces clear navigation, compelling content, and an SEO-friendly structure.

Internet marketing and web design agencies can approach web design from different angles, but there are some principles that should never be forgotten, whether it's a completely new website or a redesign:

  • The website must look professional and attractive.
  • It must engage the target audience.
  • It must be user-friendly.
  • It must contribute to conversions defined by the client.
  • It must give the client a good return on investment.

How to Choose the Best Web Design Agency

Hiring the right web design team is crucial to the long-term success of your business. After all, if your website is not doing what it's supposed to do, it could damage the reputation of your brand. Make sure your web design company gets to know your business inside and out, as well as your industry and competition. Some less credible marketing agencies don't understand that the relationship between themselves and the client is key. Here are some important questions to consider:

  1. How much experience does the web design firm have?
  2. Can the agency help you with hosting and a content management system (CMS)?
  3. Are they able to provide responsive web design?
  4. Do they design to increase on-site conversions?
  5. Are they up to date with SEO best practices and guidelines?

Choosing the right design agency for your business can dramatically improve your long-term sales. They will be flexible enough to offer web design packages that suit your budget, and still be able to create a great-looking website that improves your online visibility, even after the initial design is complete. A reputable web design company will respect your business needs and give you time to focus on other important aspects of running your business.

Your business deserves to be represented by a high-quality website, so beware of web design companies that charge extremely low fees - they may not be as credible as they first appear and could harm your business in the long run.

Address the Needs of Your Audience

Your website is often the first point of contact with potential customers. Get it wrong, and you could seriously harm the reputation of your business. Give a good first impression and you have a good chance of keeping visitors on your site for longer. Ultimately, the right combination of graphic design, on-page content, and site usability will convert more of your visitors into customers. It just makes sense to get it right from the outset.

The most effective websites will have low page bounce rates and help visitors find what they're looking for. The user experience is a key part of retaining visitors. Give people the information they need, and make the website easy to navigate. If you can do this, you can keep people on your site for longer and ultimately increase conversions.

Address Your Long-Term Marketing Goals

To make sure you're ready for future changes to your business, products, or services, it's worthwhile using a content management system. This means you can change any important details on your website without affecting the overall site design. Making these spontaneous changes to your website is an important part of marketing your business effectively.

Being able to change and add new content to your site is also key to higher search engine rankings. Google and other search engines reward sites with original content and dynamic pages, so giving users a diverse multimedia experience on your website is also key to a strong SEO strategy.

Convert More Customers

There are various techniques to make your website a more effective marketing machine, from including your name, address, and phone number (NAP) on every page of your site, to increasing the frequency and positioning of calls-to-action. Once you have your visitors on your site, do you have the necessary triggers to influence their behavior? Powerful calls-to-action such as "Sign Up Now for a Free Trial" or "Download Your Free Report" are an essential part of conversion optimization.

The most effective web designs combine compelling calls-to-action, relevant content, and clear navigational elements to engage potential customers and persuade them to take further action. Make sure you work with a team of professional designers who understand conversion optimization.

Enhance Your Brand Identity

Your website should not only look good, but also compliment your brand's identity. There are many ingenious design techniques you can use to convey meaning, from color psychology to typography and word placement. In this age of social media, it's important to have a consistent brand image across your various online properties.

If your website is the heart of your marketing strategy, make sure it's promoting your business in the best possible light. After all, your brand identity is a fundamental part of how people perceive your business. It can enhance your credibility and help you engage with your audience in a more meaningful way.

Improve Accessibility With Responsive Web Design

As more and more consumers are using their smartphones and tablets to access the Internet from any location, having a responsive website design is crucial for any forward-thinking business. Is your current website fully functional on any device? With the right web design team behind you, you'll look great on any smartphone, tablet, iOS device, or Android phone. The user experience is more important than ever before, so responsive design should be an integral part of your online marketing strategy.

Successful web design is about the complete visitor experience, from landing on your site to interacting with your content. If you get it right, it will be one of the most important marketing investments you ever make. For this reason, it's vital you work with a design and marketing agency you can trust. You can then give your business and brand the image it deserves and maximize its future growth potential.

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5 Steps to Simplify Social Media Management for Small Businesses

social-mediaWith the boom of the Internet, small businesses were suddenly tasked with creating and maintaining an online presence - no matter how long they had been around. There were also new businesses, blogs, and entrepreneurs popping up in the "strictly online" realm. Since then, great leaps have been made on the web, and social media has taken the entire world by storm. This has left large brands and small businesses alike scrambling to make themselves heard in their niche.

Small businesses and entrepreneurs, unfortunately, are at a disadvantage in this race. While large companies can contribute hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars to their social media campaigns, small businesses are often left with do-it-yourself options on a tight budget. While it's no secret that social media is imperative, it is often hard to figure out how to utilize it effectively when you are short on both time and cash. Following these five steps will lead you through the confusion and on to a phenomenal social presence quickly and with no money spent.

Step 1: Choose Your Social Platforms Wisely

Consider this: a real estate agent wouldn't go to the local knitter's club to network. Under the same logic, you need to maximize your effort by networking where your market is. There are polls and studies published and freely available online that describe the average demographics of the most popular social media sites. Compare this data to the demographics of your target market, and you should be able to choose 2-3 social platforms for your business.

While there isn't much harm in experimenting with different social platforms, this should be done when your business has more time and resources to devote to "trial and error." Until you get to this point, get the most out of your investments by starting where you know your market is.

Step 2: Use a Social Management Tool

Once you have decided which platforms you want to use, sign up for a social management tool that integrates all of your platforms onto one dashboard. Sites like Hootsuite and SproutSocial support most of the top social platforms, and allow you to see all activity across all of your profiles on one dashboard. You can read/send direct messages, post or schedule updates, and even track analytics. It will save you a lot of time and show you exactly what is working well for your business and what is not.

Step 3: Spend 20 Minutes a Day Engaging With Your Networks

Now you have a few social profiles set up, and a tool to manage them all, so it is time to start engaging and growing your audience. The best ways to do this are to be human online. You may be representing a business, but people connect to people. You will want to post updates that are both promotional and non-promotional (mostly non-promotional.) Also, follow people and/or other companies that you find interesting and may be in your target audience. If they find your profile and content interesting, they will follow back and maybe even invite their friends.

Step 4: Talk WITH Your Networks, Not at Them

Okay, so you have a presence online, a great management tool, and you've begun to attract a following with your content. Now what? Well, now the real magic of social media begins. It's not just about pushing yourself out there and trying to sell, sell, sell. Social media is about creating connections and turning potential customers into loyal brand advocates.

To do that, you need to talk with your network, not at it. Just like any healthy relationship, you will need to show that you care about the other person as much as you do about yourself. Like and share statuses, ask questions and follow up with the answers, and respond to questions and comments in a timely manner. Show your followers you aren't just interested in inflated numbers on your profile, you are here to form true bonds.

Step 5: Tighten and Prune Your Networks Regularly

It shouldn't be long after steps 1-4 that you start to see a rise in followers and increase in business. But in order to cultivate that tight community of people who love you, you will need to do some reviewing and pruning every once in a while.

Email marketers are well aware of the power of removing "inactive" people from your list. The same is true for your social profiles. At least twice a year, take some time to remove followers who are obviously spammers or completely inactive, and review your content strategy to keep talking directly to the core of your target audience. This will ensure you always stay on-brand and on top of your social media.

There are many other options and ideas that can help you curate content for your social campaigns, manage your growth, and track your success, but as you start out, it is imperative to keep things simple. These five steps can get you up and running quickly with zero dollars out of your pocket and as little as 20 minutes per day.

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Five SEO Essentials For 2014

seo

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a field that constantly evolves, mainly because of Google's frequent ranking algorithm updates. As a website owner, it is critical to keep up with the latest, best techniques to use - and outdated ones to drop - if you are serious about ranking your site. Here are five SEO essentials for 2014, all of which apply to every business, niche and website.

Test everything

No matter who says it, never take anything you hear about SEO at face value. It's a common mistake for less-experienced site owners to trust rumors and hearsay presented as fact on forums and blogs across the Internet. There is, of course, a great deal of genuine information passed on in this way, but there is also a lot of rubbish and hyperbole that gets regurgitated online.

The key is to verify as much information as you can, preferably at the source, then test everything for yourself. Set up a secondary site on which you can run tests. Make sure that site is set up to log important statistics (such as through Google Analytics) and track metrics for all your SEO activities. This is the only way you can differentiate between truth and urban myth - and, more importantly, figure out what works for your business.

Links are still important

Although Google clamps down on automated and easy link-building every time they update their algorithm, backlinks do still help rankings in 2014. The important thing is quality, rather than quantity.

To avoid being penalized, you must determine the right keywords to use, the right sites to work with for your links and the right number of links to build in order to get ranked. You also need to consider how quickly those links are created, so that there is a natural progression rather than a sudden, all-at-once flood of new links.

This is where testing is vital. Do not carry out experiments on your primary site: build a completely separate test site and run your tests there. This will allow you to get accurate information on what works and what doesn't.

Avoid link farms

Back in the day, it was easy to rank a site on the search engines by slapping some cheap content onto a bunch of article directories and private site networks. This does not work any more. You must avoid link farms, as they are likely to damage your site's reputation.

Instead, make sure that you get links from genuine, reputable sites to avoid getting bad link messages in your Google Webmaster Tools dashboard. If you're wondering how to spot good links, the easiest way to check is to consider whether the link will bring human visitors to your site. If that's unlikely, Google will probably tag it as a spam link and down-rate you for it.

Post original content

The days of spun content are also gone. Spinning articles was always a cheap, effective way of generating unique content (in search engine terms) to distribute across all those article directories and private networks. It is now a great way to prevent your site from ever ranking on the first page of Google!

Although you would see a significant reduction in your content costs, the effect of article spinning is devastating in the long run. Not only will Google's algorithm spot the content as spun copies and mark them all as duplicates, but it will also tag the content as useless, uninformative and, to be blunt, spam. That's a lot of negative marks for every spun copy.

It is absolutely critical to stick to original content for your site. You can find freelance writers to create original content at attractive prices if you hunt around. Original content is the best solution to better rankings in the long run.

Create social signals

Most SEO professionals agree that the search engines place a lot of importance on social signals for ranking websites. For this reason, you must ensure that your site has a good social media presence. You should also make it easy for your visitors to share your content across their social profiles. Make sure your sharing buttons are placed conspicuously and work smoothly.

Since the search engine companies keep their ranking algorithms secret, SEO will never be an exact science, but these five essentials will give you a solid foundation on which to build your strategy. They should also be reliable standards for the future, no matter what specific changes Google implements in their ranking system.

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