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New Year Website/Internet Marketing Resolution

This new year, be sure to keep your website a main part of your advertising. As you are probably aware, more and more people are using the internet to conduct research for the products and services they need. At the start of each year, businesses forecast for the year ahead and allocate resources for advertising expenses. Make sure that the “Internet Marketing” area has sufficient funds so your business can see the effects that others have seen by advertising on the internet.

We would also recommend looking through Google’s array of services that may benefit your company. Google Docs is a word document program similar to Microsoft Word. One of the huge benefits is that you can make it available for others to access that same document and edit it on the net. This eliminates sending the most up-to-date file between editors. You can also edit that document anywhere there is a computer with an internet connection. Google Maps also is a great feature to have on your website so viewers can find your place of business.

Another area to keep in mind is to make sure that your website is search engine friendly. We have helped many clients be found in the search engines and make sure the website content is crawlable for the search engine spiders. Many companies have a large ROI when their websites, services and search engine results are combined correctly.

Go though your current website and think about a redesign. Many times, a new year is coupled with new offers and your website should reflect those offers. A redesigned website can have a large impact on your conversion rates, which in turn boosts your ROI. Additional functionality, cleaning up navigation and additional pages can all have a positive effect on how a customer views your business and how the search engines crawl your website content.

As always, if you have any questions about how a website can benefit your business, please let us know! We would be happy to answer any questions you may have!

Have a great and safe New Year!



Qualities of a Great Website

A great website showcases the professionalism of the company and answers any questions that a visitor may have. Over the years, we have come across many different styles of websites with information ranging from simple to very complex. However, making sure that basic information is readily available to users is the best practice.

So what types of information are best practice to have a great website?

A CLEAN, CRISP, PROFESSIONAL DESIGN

When you go out to meet a new client, you probably dress up very nice, check the mirror twice before you leave in the hope of putting your best foot forward. Looking presentable can be a major factor if you get the job or not. Looking professional builds trust. The same principle needs to be applied to your website.

Chances are that if you are reading this article, you have some experience with searching around the web. I am also willing to bet that you have seen some pretty horrid websites. Maybe you have seen some websites with broken links, missing images or alignment issues. These are all little indicators that build up to the trustworthiness or UNtrustworthyness of your website.

Case in point, let your website be designed by professionals who know how to make your website appear as professional as possible.

HOSTING THAT DOES NOT LET YOU (OR YOUR WEBSITE) DOWN

Website hosting is a place on the internet where your website stays readily available for online visitors. Sometimes, web hosting companies will pack thousands, if not tens of thousands on a server. Their services will be cheap, but often times, at the cost of having your website not indexed and/or crawled by the large search engines and the website being down and not available. In the website hosting industry, the motto “You get what you pay for” is heard loud and clear. Our advice? Be careful where you choose to pinch pennies!

CONTACT INFORMATION READILY AVAILABLE

It is always a good idea to place contact information in highly visible areas of your website. Finding contact information also builds trust. If they have questions in the future, they know that they can contact you without a problem.

RELEVANT INFORMATION ON THE WEB PAGES

Once users get to your website, the first thing they would like to know is what you can do for them. Part of having a great website is providing all of the information that you think would be helpful to a visitor who comes to your website. Add information such as:

  • Solutions to problems
  • Common problems
  • Interesting stories
  • Testimonials
  • Years of experience
  • How you got to where you are today
  • What you offer
  • Savings
  • Coupons
  • Company literature (brochures, business cards, short videos)

WEB PAGE STRUCTURE FOR EASY NAVIGATION

Another sign of a great website is having a navigation hierarchy that is easy for visitors to understand. Most of the time, users will land on a web page and want to look around. If the information they are looking for is buried in another page and not directly in front pf them, most of the time they will simply leave your website and go to another competitor. This is a critical reason why you need to have an easy to understand navigation structure.

It is also important to make sure that there aren’t any broken links. It can be very frustrating to users (and a mark on your trustworthiness) when links they are wanting to follow do not let them do so.

In order to have a great website, it is necessary to plan out many details first and then make sure that the design is professional, hosting is reliable, information is useful and relevant and navigation structure is solid. If you do these things, you will have a great place for users to go and find out more information about what you have to offer and build your authority on your particular industry.



Website Problems | Frequent problems of building a website yourself

Common Website Hassels

Over the years, many issues have arisen with having a website built. There is no shortage of “web design” companies out there that are super cheap or you can do all of the changes yourself. What they don’t tell you about the other issues that can arise that make the website design process a never ending nightmare. As with many things in life, you will get what you pay for.

HTML EDITOR CODE NIGHTMARES

For the most part, website editors are great if you have a small amount of Microsoft Word experience and HTML code experience, but if you are just starting out, there can be quite a learning curve. There are a large variety of editors, ranging from overly simplistic to very complex.

In theory, Word can be used to create a simple website. The main issue that we run into is the huge amount of style code that gets placed in the background when text is “copy and pasted” from a Word document. It can be a couple hundred lines of relatively useless code that the search engines must crawl through to get to the content on your website.

Taking the time to structure your content properly will benefit website load times, search engines and yourself if you have to go back and change or add more content. If the code behind the scenes in the editor is not clean, formatting in the editor can be a painful process.

BROKEN PAGES/LINKS

Navigation is important so all pages are easy to access from anywhere within the website. When a business wants to build a website quickly and without a professional’s recommendations, often one of the key elements of a website is compromised, the site structure. The site structure is a critical piece of information that often goes overlooked in a quick “throw-it-out-there” website. Pages are not linked consistently and broken navigation leaves potential customers with no choice but to go elsewhere for their information. Making sure the structure of the website is solid will minimize the amount of broken links on your website and will give the user a better overall guide to relevant information. There are tools that check if there are any broken links, such as XENU Link Sleuth.

CORRECTLY OPTIMIZED PAGES

Another often overlooked area when building your own website is correctly optimizing the web page for the search engines. Many times the title, description and “H” tags are left out, because of the time necessary to make a decent summary of the topic of each individual web page. These websites almost never appear at the top of the search engines because the title tag simply says “Welcome!” and nothing about what the page is actually about. A professional web developer will make sure these tags are filled out with information that will tell the search engines and users what the topic of the page is, which will lead them to the page for more relevant information.

CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF PRECIOUS TIME

One of the factors in developing a website is the amount of time it takes to do the job right the first time. Many times it is a better use of the business person’s time to focus on their business instead of focusing on the website. Making sure that the website structure is focused, the pages are built correctly, no broken links, website scalability and the other factors mentioned in this article are key to the successful implementation of a professional website. Many of the successful business people in the world have come to the same conclusion, that in order to make money, it is best to let the professionals do the work so you can focus on growing your business.

IMAGE SIZE/OPTIMIZATION ISSUES

Another drawback of the traditional html-based website editor is the lack of image-sizing compression tools. This as a common mistake when using a website editor. Images that are 2400×1200 pixels in size are “sized” down to 240×120. The result is an image that is dithered and still has to load at the 2400×1200 size. This can be the difference in load times of an image 8 megabytes in size compared to 640 bytes (8,000,000 bytes compared to 640 bytes). Large images can also take a long time to load and with the patience of the everyday user decreasing, by not optimizing your website images you are shooting yourself in the foot. Having many uncompressed images can also increase monthly website bandwidth charges unnecessarily, just by having the website pictures not optimized correctly. Having optimized images on a website can make or break the user experience and possibly “break the bank” in additional bandwidth charges.

CROSS BROWSER COMPATIBILITY

Cross browser compatibility is the process to make sure that your website is being seen the same way on many different browsers such as Microsoft Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, etc. It may sound strange that your website could look different in a different internet browser, but it can definitely be an issue. A recent statistic resource stated that the current market share is:

  • Internet Explorer internet browser market share = 37.5% (shared between IE8, IE7 & IE6)
  • Mozilla Firefox = 47.5%
  • Google Chrome = 8.0%
  • Safari = 3.8%
  • Opera = 2.3%

Internet browser market share statistic from: http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp

This data shows a major split between IE and FF (Internet Explorer and Fire Fox respectively). A judgment can then be made that it is important to make sure that a website appears the same within these 2 browsers in order to make sure that your website is being viewed consistently across the browser platform. This may also require the person in charge of the website to know some of the backend HTML code so that they can make the necessary changes to ensure the website does not have any major flaws across any of the browser platforms. Checking to make sure the website is being seen correctly also takes additional time, but it can definitely be worth it. Sometimes code fragments will appear in one browser and not in the other one. Sometimes whole “div” statement text boxes can overlap, or appear broken on your website which does not look professional and can actually drive customers away. Therefore having a professional that knows the ins and outs of the cross browser compatibility issues can be a major help in getting your website done the right way.

DOMAIN RENEWAL, HOSTING AND WEBSITE BACKUPS

The hosting and domain name renewal has been another issue that has come up. It is very important that dates for the renewal of hosting and domain name are put on a calendar or checked on a regular basis. Often times, renewal dates are forgotten and another company buys the domain name, leaving you with printed materials with an outdated domain name. Or the website hosting is shut off and the business misses a sale from a prospective customer.

It is difficult to see a business that has worked so hard on their website and has their email address @yourbusiness.com on all of there business cards and they forget to renew the domain name and someone takes their domain name. We have seen it happen more than once. For this reason, I would highly recommend a complete website solutions provider to take over this task for your business. The major domain name registrars will send out email alerts, but if they are blocked or never get to the person in charge, the domain name will expire. If you choose to go with a professional web design company though, they will usually try to contact you via phone and make sure that you would like to renew the domain name so that it does not get picked up by someone else.

Hosting is a very important piece of having a professional website and can have a huge effect on the success of the website. Many people we talk to are so concerned about saving a few bucks on the website hosting that they forget what they will not be receiving if they go the cheap route. Usually the cheaper the website hosting, the more people there are on a web server. The more people on a web server the slower the web server. This translates into slower load times for your website along with search engines not being able to crawl your website. Ultimately your website receives a lower search engine ranking, potential customers lose interest from the amount of time it takes to go from page to page on your website and they leave and go to your competitor. Our word of advice, don’t go cheap in the hosting arena. A solid foundation goes a long way for future success. It is also important to know when your website hosting is due. Hosting can also be tied to the company emails; if the hosting is down, so are the emails and the website. This is another reason why it is important that the due date is tracked and made aware of.

Website backups can be critically important if you have databases that run your website, or if you have data that is stored on a server. Once again, it is not a good idea to go cheap on hosting if this data is valuable to your business. The hosting company should have great customer service, get back to you relatively quickly and give you some type of backup option. I know you may be saying, “yeah, yeah, yeah….”, but when push comes to shove and the hosting company decides to go out of business and you are left without backups, you will have wished you had worked with a professional web design company that took care of all of the backups. They could have had your website back online with another hosting company within a matter of minutes, rather than gone forever.

FORGOTTEN USERNAME AND PASSWORDS (FTP, EDITOR AND DOMAIN, ETC)

Forgotten username and passwords to a variety of accounts that are necessary in the web design process can halt a project immediately. Many times, people roll their eyes when told to write the website, username, password and any other data that matters and keep it in a safe place. Then a few weeks later they say that they are having trouble logging in and that their password does not work or they forgot their password. Usually these calls come to us in the middle of an “emergency” and often times, there is nothing the web design company can do. Tracking all of the necessary usernames and passwords for the complete web design process can prove to be an annoyance to any business owner.

WHERE DO YOU GO FOR SUPPORT, OR THE MORE IMPORTANT QUESTION, HOW LONG DO YOU WAIT FOR SUPPORT?

Everyone should know about this trick by now. We are “wow’d” by a company’s ability to offer free support, only to find out that it is necessary to spend 10 minutes pressing buttons and waiting for an additional 10 minutes to talk to someone. Your time is valuable. We have seen many times, that smaller companies provide better support than the larger companies. Especially today, it seems that some of the smaller businesses are a little more “hungry” for the business and will strive to do their best to answer any questions. I would highly recommend asking the average wait time for receptionists to pick up your call in order to save your time.

Another question to ask is “where is the support coming from?” as in the geographic location. We have had support issues, with many large companies that send support calls over-seas and have yet to have a good experience doing so. Language barriers are enough to drive anyone half insane, especially when you are trying to get a project completed.

LACKING SITE STRUCTURE / FUTURE SCALABILITY

The website structure is very important to have in place before the web design process begins. It is also important that the future scalability of the website does not have any large complications to the current website. Many times, websites are rushed onto the internet without thinking about the website structure and future scalability. If web pages are not properly linked; users will lose their way and eventually leave your website. Down the road, it may be important to your business to incorporate a blog, or many additional pages and it may be necessary to scrap the original navigation structure and start another, adding more time to the project. Making sure the website is scalable and is able to incorporate additional pages, a blog, banner ads or other links in appropriate places can save you time and money in the long run.

LACK OF SALES FOCUS

This could be one of the greatest areas that is left behind when a user decides to build a website themselves. The lack of knowing and pushing what the website is for has a dramatic impact on whether the website will drive sales or not. The message you are trying to portray to users should happen within the first 10 seconds of the user coming to your web page and at least a phone number and email address where they can get more information are critical to your website producing sales for your company. The sad thing is that we have talked to many decision makers that have said that they have not done business with certain companies because there was not any contact information readily available on their website, so they went to a competitor that did. Keeping the sales goals of the website in mind, whether it’s to give a phone number, send an email, fill out a form, or inquire today is a key part to having your website be a success for your business.

MORE TO BE DESIRED DESIGN

Many of the design templates that are used today are much better than they were a few years ago, but they can still be a huge pain to users that do not know the nuts and bolts of how the original design was “sliced up”. This often leads to broken elements on the website, or a graphic that was done in Microsoft Paint that does not match the website theme. These are very subtle touches that visitors can pick up on and decide if your business is a professional organization or not. Notice the choice of words. Visitors will judge the BUSINESS as non professional, not just the website. This key observation will make anyone who is building the website for their business want to take a second look to make sure that all of the pieces look top notch and very professional.

These are a few frequent issues that we have heard over the years when a business decides to build a website themselves. Often times, these important details are overlooked and business from prospective customers is lost. We recommend saving yourself the headaches that can be associated with the entire website process and leave it up to the professionals. Let the pros do what they are good at and you can put your efforts toward other areas of growing your business.



New Business Websites | Businesses need a website to take advantage of searching customers

New Business Websites

We are still surprised how many businesses do not have a website. Now, because we are a web design company, we may be a little biased : ). We have also seen the effects that a website can have on a business, especially certain types of businesses. Even the businesses that we do not conduct a full out search engine optimization campaign, still get business from the web. It is amazing how many people search the internet looking for solutions to all sorts of questions and problems.

Online Searches

New businesses can capitalize on the fact that people are searching for many different types of products and services on the internet. The other great part of this is that many of the searches done today are focused for a more geographic local search. This gives the business a great chance to be found on the top of the search engines, just by having a website online. This trend for a more local search can have a significant effect from sales generated from your website.

Decision Makers

We know many decision makers that attempt to look for a website on a given company before they call to do business with them. It is expected that businesses have a website that has the necessary information that is organized in a way users can easily find the information they are looking for. We have also talked with the decision makers about what they do if they find a business that does not have a website, or if the website is not easy to find, and they all say the same thing, “I don’t do business with them.”

This speaks volumes about how important it is to make it easy for your business to be found online. If your business does not have a website, decision makers knowingly overlook your company for a competitor that has invested in a website for themselves. This reason alone should tell you how critical it is to be easy to do business with online.

Conclusion

New business websites are a great place to start in the world of advertising, especially with how affordable internet advertising is compared to other forms of advertising. So if you have a new business and are looking for fast and affordable advertising, we would highly recommend looking into investing in a professionally designed website for your business.



Minnesota Startups Need a Budget for a Website and Online Advertising

Minnesota Startup Businesses

Minnesota startup businesses need a website and a budget for online advertising. Having a website is one of the most cost effective forms of advertising. This makes a website a great business tool to invest in. Minnesota startups need to leverage the power of the internet to help grow their business and get the best bang for their buck in advertising expenses.

Stay On Budget

It is critical for new businesses to find the best means of rolling out the business while staying within budget. This can prove to be a difficult task, but one piece should be set aside for the website and advertising budget.

Invest Wisely

A professionally designed website for a Minnesota startup business can help make or break a business. Everyone knows that more and more people are searching online rather than going to a big phone book. This is a great opportunity for business startups to take advantage of the search engines and get in front of customers without paying phone book front page rates. In order to get front page space on the search engines, it is critical that all of the website pieces are in place. If a startup is serious about getting found online, we would recommend going with a professional web design company. Let the pros do their job, so you can focus on your business. After all, the only way your new startup will survive and thrive is if the business model is scalable and people can get tasks done for you.

Online Advertising Budget

If you conduct some advertising research, you will find that businesses are turning away from the traditional large phone books and pumping more dollars into online advertising. It is hard to blame them too. When you can put your business in front of motivated buyers, what is that worth to your business? Answer: as much as you can afford! Another reason that startup businesses should take a look into online advertising is that they can set their budget as to how much they would like to spend. Minnesota startup businesses should definitely take a look at an online advertising budget.

Anyone who has been involved with a startup knows the importance of keeping within a budget and spending their money wisely. In today’s business market, one of the best places to invest is in a website and online advertising.