Are You Planning to Fail?

If there is one constant in the website development business, it is that there will always be change. And as things change, your business strategy needs to adjust accordingly to maximize effectiveness and avoid being put into a competitive disadvantage. With a modicum of planning, businesses can use these technology changes and market shifts to their advantage. Conversely, companies that don’t do this end-up lagging further and further behind.

When it comes to your online strategy, we are very aware of how a business’s lack of proper planning can result in last-minute changes to any number of web development projects they may have in the works. Indeed, we often see how poor planning can lead to longer development times, sloppy code with bugs and errors, and insufficient care given to the site architecture. These can conspire to result in a poor user experience, which can be harmful to both a company’s brand, and their bottom line.

ASometimes slowing down actually speeds things ups developers, we seek to address the poor planning concern by spending more time upfront—we strive to do less “selling,” and more question asking. And while this may initially seem counter-productive, we have found the “slow down to speed up” mantra saves both developers and clients time and money in the end. In this method, there tend to be fewer requirement changes and new functionality requests are reduced.

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The Importance of being earnest (in keeping your online presence current!)

Poet and playwright Oscar Wilde may have had some fun with Victorian social conventions in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” but he likely never could have imagined the importance of being earnest about your online presence. Indeed, your online existence says everything many of your potential customers will ever know about your business or organization. That’s why it’s critical to keep both your website and your social media pages up-to-date, in both messaging and design. An appealing look and feel combined with interesting or compelling content will communicate professionalism, capability and relevancy to those searching for a business or organization like yours.

 

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Social Media

 

More than ever before, social media is an important component of any contemporary marketing strategy. As both younger and older audiences use these mediums with increasing frequency to communicate with others and make purchase decisions, your social presence can no longer be seen as “nice to have.” Here are a few key components to keep your presence relevant and engaging:

 

·         Fresh content– Keeping your audience up-to-date with company happenings, new products, special offers and other interesting content will help ensure your brand stays relevant. After all, consumers are quick to dismiss a company with a stale Facebook page or a blog that hasn’t been updated since 2012! Routine posts will show that your company is active, that you have new and interesting products or services, and that it is worth their time to stay engaged with your brand.

 

·         SEO – Fresh content in the form of blogs or social media posts can be extremely advantageous for search engine optimization (getting found on Google!). You can use posts to help focus on poorly performing keywords and topics, or help further reinforce good performers. Either way, you can boost your keyword rankings and site traffic by simply honing-in on timely and topical social media content.

 

·         Keeping your audience engaged – Keeping your audience “in the know” is a sound strategy to keep them engaged with your brand. Social media is a perfect platform for this because:

 

a)     It’s quickly becoming the primary way customers evaluate your business and offerings

b)    You can encourage interaction through comments, replies, likes, re-tweets, etc.

c)     You can use it as a source for product research, service evaluation, or customer feedback

 

 

Site Updates

 

Along with social media, it’s important to remember that your core website is just as important as social media when it comes to being up-to-date and current. After all, your website may be the primary way a prospective customer engages with your brand before deciding to purchase your product or service.

 

When it comes to keeping your website current, simple updates can go a long way. Whether it’s adding new content, imagery, news articles, white papers, videos, or any number of other minor updates and modifications, staying ahead of the curve and keeping your audience engaged is crucial. At Sharp Innovations, we offer several hosting packages that allow our clients to make updates to their site through our support desk in a short period of time and at cost-effective rates.

 

 

Site Redesign

 

Apart from simply having fresh content, your website needs to also be aesthetically and functionally appealing, as well. With the onslaught of ever-changing design standards and methodology (new browsers, new devices, new trends), this is no trivial task. After all, one look at a five year old website may be all it takes to lose a potential customer. This harsh reality speaks to the importance of continually seeking to improve your site’s design and functionality with regularity (typically every 3-4 years, or sooner). The team at Sharp Innovations has 15 years of experience building and developing websites, re-designing websites, and creating mobile-accessible, and SEO-optimized sites to help you keep your audience engaged and coming back. 

“Themes” replacing “Keywords” as king of Search Engine Optimization

As any good search engine optimization specialist knows, there are no constants when it comes to achieving good rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs). Staying abreast of industry trends and adjusting to the ever-evolving algorithms used by Google and others is a core part of the SEO services provided by Sharp Innovations.

Themes, Topics and Concepts

One of the latest SEO trends is the migration away from “keywords” or phrases to more robust topics or themes. The traditional focus on single keywords has evolved into thinking about a more holistic message, with Google (in particular) rewarding a page with a consistent theme over a page that is simply loaded with repetitions of a single keyword.

“…we need to be focusing on what the user is looking for rather than specifically all of the ways they can phrase it.” Kate Morris – The Moz Blog

As Google continues to adjust their search algorithm, they’ve recently implemented a new query model which focuses on context versus specific words alone. This, in turn, rewards a page that is optimized with broader themes and topics in mind. This model is more focused on determining what the user is actually looking for, versus simply matching exact keyword phrases that may or may not be relevant. Which, of course, is in keeping with Google’s mission of providing the best search experience possible. With this in mind, a themed page would need to consider both the explicit and implicit facets of a search, or what the user may be searching for coupled with where they are and with what device they are searching from. For example:

Lancaster Antique shops (explicit)
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Smartphone user, on street in Lancaster (implicit)

When optimizing a page, both the explicit and implicit search queries must be factored into the page theme or topic. In other words, the context in which a user is searching is often just as important as the topic for which they are searching.

Hummingbird

We mentioned earlier that Google frequently changes its search algorithm (by some estimates, a dozen or more times per year). Indeed, Google recently rolled out an update called “Hummingbird,” which, adjusted its way of determining relevancy in a search. This adds support to the idea that themed pages focusing on topics and concepts may be viewed more favorably by engines than specific keyword targets. To read more about Google Hummingbird, check out our previous post on this update.

More fluid content and better optimization

It will come as a relief to both website content editors and their clients to know that they are no longer required to awkwardly jam web pages with keywords in order to climb the SERP ranks. Taking into account the context with which a user is searching, web content authors can develop topics and themes that are attentive to the user’s context and reason for searching. This should result in cleaner content and better rankings!

For example, in the content shown below, the phrase “time management” does not need to be stuffed into the page several times for proper optimization, as was attempted in the past. In fact, the preferred method is to write about the topic more naturally, which creates several words and phrases associated with the “time management” theme:

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Sharp Innovations offers a complete suite of SEO services, from on and off-page organic optimization to comprehensive social media and blogging packages, and much more. Feel free to reach out and learn how we can help you navigate the ever-changing search engine waters.

Responsive Web Design Vs. Mobile Web Design

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 91% of all American adults have a cell phone, and 58% have a smartphone. If you’re wondering whether or not now is the right time to be thinking about a mobile-friendly version of your website, the answer for most businesses is that you shouldn’t just be thinking about it, you should already have one. The real question for most businesses is what type of mobile site is appropriate? There are basically two types.

What is Responsive Web Design?

A “responsive” website is one that seeks to provide easy reading and navigation while minimizing resizing, scrolling and left/right panning motions. It does this by dynamically moving and re-sizing parts of your website to allow for proper display and ease of use, regardless of device. Depending on your device’s size, the website may scale and shift pieces in different ways. It does this by using proportion-based grids, resizable images and various media queries. Since the only things that change are behind-the-scenes pieces of code, you don’t need a different domain name for the mobile version (such as “m.examplesite.com” or “mobi.examplesite.com”). Small, medium or large—it’s the same website for every size screen.

The responsive design example below shows you three different ways our Sharp Innovations website displays, depending on whether you are on a desktop (A), a tablet (B), or phone (C).What a mobile, tablet, and desktop user may see the Sharp responsive website as.

What about Mobile Web Design?

A mobile website is a version of your website specifically optimized for mobile devices, which often includes a unique look built for a specific size. The emphasis here is on removing unnecessary distractions and focusing only on the things that a mobile user is likely to care about most. The problem with a mobile-specific design is that it will be built to a specific screen size or resolution, which has become problematic as new devices continue to be introduced with differences in screen sizes, pixel count, format, etc. In addition, a mobile site must typically reside at an “m.” or “mobi.” address, which creates a second site for search engines to index. If not done properly, this can lead to duplicate content issues.

On the plus side, a mobile site can be built to address very specific needs and user interaction preferences for mobile users in completely custom ways, which can reduce costs. Brandt’s Mill, a Sharp Innovations client, had us build a mobile-friendly site for them, as shown below.

Brandts Mill Mobile Website

Which should we choose for our website?

Both responsive and mobile website design fulfill the role of providing a more user-friendly experience for mobile and tablet visitors. Your specific need will likely determine which route you choose.

A responsive website is Google’s preferred option, so if you’re concerned with obtaining the best possible rankings, this is probably your best bet. In addition, you won’t need to make updates to both the mobile and desktop versions of your website separately, as any change you make on a responsive site is universal and will show-up on all devices. As mentioned before, you also won’t need to setup a separate domain for mobile traffic, so there’s no need for an m.examplessite.com, or similar.

However, if your website is already built and is non-responsive, you may choose a dedicated mobile site to save the effort of a full site redesign and associated costs. Since a dedicated mobile website is specifically built for mobile devices, it may also reduce load times by using smaller images and less content.

In general, if you are having a new website built, we recommend going the responsive route. That’s why we do this for every new website we build as a standard feature. If, however, you have an older website, or you have very specific desires for your website that may be distinct from your core website, a dedicated mobile option may make sense. If any of this is confusing, we encourage you to connect with someone on our team to discuss what would make sense for your specific needs. We’re happy to answer any question about mobile-friendly web design you may have!

Sharp Innovations Acquires This Way Up! Marketing

Since 1999, Sharp Innovations has help decision-makers in dozens of industries grow their businesses through the power of Internet marketing. With powerful design, creative content, full-service search engine optimization, and more recent additions like social media management and mobile device optimization, we’ve made it our mission to help our clients find success online and achieve a positive return on their investment.

As part of our ongoing commiSharp Innovations, inc. acquires This Way Up! to expand service offeringstment to providing out clients with the resources necessary to be successful, Sharp Innovations is pleased to announce that as of March 3rd, 2014, we will be acquiring “This Way Up! Marketing,” a website development and Internet marketing firm based here in Lancaster, PA. With this acquisition, Sharp Innovations will be adding key members of the This Way Up! team to our staff, including Karl Diffenderfer, principal of This Way Up. Karl will become our new “Director of Innovation,” providing a unique ability to identify new opportunities in the market to help you grow your business, as well as years of experience in videography that will allow us to offer new options for video creation. Along with Karl, we have also recently added both an additional project manager and an application developer to our team, to further aid in our ability to provide high value, full service web development, Internet marketing and related services to our broad range of clientele.

The addition of talent and resources from This Way Up! will enable us to provide both a depth and breadth of services beyond anything to-date in our 15 year history. If you have any questions about how this acquisition could benefit your company or organization, feel free to give us a call, or email us at support@sharpinnovations.com. We look forward to serving you in 2014 and beyond!

What Can Google Analytics Tell You?

We have been using Google Analytics with our clients for several years, and it is one of the most powerful, no cost tools available. Just about any activity or interaction from visitors on your site can be measured with Google Analytics. In this post, we’ll focus on a few specific features that can help you make adjustments to your website and keep it moving forward.

  1. Do I need a mobile website?

    Google tracks mobile and tablet views to your website, so if you have seen a steady increase in the percentage of traffic coming from these sources, then it would be safe to say you should explore adding a mobile website or responsive design elements. With the recent “Hummingbird” changes to Google’s rankings algorithm, not having a mobile website will likely cause a drop in your rankings if they haven’t already started doing so. Data for this is available under the “Standard Reports” tab on the left, then “Audience,” “Mobile,” and “Overview.” All you need to do is sort by an appropriate time period. Typically, we advise that a recent, significant increase, or anything over 10%, indicates a site that is a good candidate for a mobile version or a responsive redesign.

    Google Analytics can help you determine if you need a mobile website

  2. What are my top traffic sources?

    Creating a diverse Internet marketing plan for your website is important to building traffic. Tactics can include an ongoing, organic SEO effort, a pay-per-click campaign, multiple social media pages, and more. Google Analytics can show you which of these efforts is yielding the best results. This data is available under the “Standard Reports” tab on the left, then “Acquisition,” and “Channels.”

    Google Analytics can help you determine where your traffic is coming from.

  3. Do any pages need to be reviewed or updated to improve the user experience?

    Your website is built for your customers, and making sure they like what they find on your site is important. Of course, knowing what any given customer will like isn’t easily identified, but looking at site data can give you some clues. Ideally, you are looking for a low bounce rate with a high average time on page (although there are exceptions, such as a contact page, where users are normally getting your phone number and leaving relatively quickly). This bounce rate and time on page data is a fantastic way to see if your content is useful and being read. If it’s not, then you can test out alternatives. This is available under the “Standard Reports” tab on the left, then “Behavior,” “Site Content,” and “All Pages.” You can set up custom filters right above the grey menu bar below the graph by clicking the blue “advanced” bar. In our example, we defined all possible problem pages as anything with 50 page views, a bounce rate over 80%, and an average time on page under 50 seconds.

    Google Analytics can help you determine if you need any page reviews

As we have noted in the above examples, Google Analytics can be an important resource to research and answer many performance-related questions about your website. If you have a question you’d like to ask us about your website, be sure to reach out to our team via our contact page, or send us a message on our social channels. And if you realized you probably need a mobile website (now that you examined the data), we can help with that, as well!

Modular Design is Cool

2013 will likely be looked back on as a year where modular design became a popular solution for many websites. Grid-based designs are ever growing, responsive websites are becoming an expected norm, and even modular interfaces are becoming increasingly popular. These structures allow for focus on designing, clean structuring and improved work speed.

windows-8-modernBut what actually is modular design? If you are familiar with Windows 8 Metro UI, you have a good conceptual starting point. Despite how you feel about Windows 8, they stand as a prime example for showing abundant content all at once and in a clean and easy to navigate fashion. Another place is the social media site Pinterest, that takes every “pinned” image, tosses it into its own box and then into its column. It allows them to easily add more content into boxes without worrying about how it may affect anything else.

Here are some quality websites, using very contemporary uses of modular design:

The modular look can easily be very bold in appearance with some work to make it softer. Some will want to shy away from this thinking if it doesn’t fit their brand, which is true sometimes, but often it is a great way to cleanly lay out a lot of content, and really encourage the user to interact with the website! The more they interact, the more they enjoy your brand!

If you have an interest in modular design, contact us to pursue a website with this currently trending design theme.

90% of Searches Affected by Google “Hummingbird”

Google made a huge change last week that is not only the largest since 2009, but the change also affects at least 90% of all searches. Unlike previous Penguin and Panda releases that just updated or enhanced the current search algorithm, the new Hummingbird launch brought the release of a brand new search algorithm. This means if you own a website, you were most likely affected by this change, and should probably reevaluate your internet marketing strategy to move beyond just a traditional focus on keywords.

To explain why, you’ll need to understand just how Hummingbird affects Google searches. Google has now moved toward catering to semantic search results, or those searches that are conversational, such as a search that asks a question. In order to do this, Google’s algorithm had to better determine how keywords tie together and what you were really looking for, as opposed to delivering results that contained those keywords you searched for. As more and more people use their mobile device for internet browsing and voice search, it was only a matter of time until Google revamped their search algorithm once again to deliver better results to users.

Is Google Pushing Its Other Services?

It’s obvious Google has motivation to push its other products and services, and it’s interesting to see some of the ways it is trying to get you to purchase services such as Adwords. There are a lot of different ways Google is starting to tie all its products together. These include:

  • Google Adwords
    • If you’re trying to see how well you’re doing for certain keywords or strings, you can no longer have this data available to you…unless you have an active Google Adwords campaign which will show you which keywords are most successful in driving traffic.google
  • Google Authorship
    • As you can guess, with a semantic search it is important to have updated information that answers questions your customers may be interested in. One of the best ways to do this is to keep an active blog, and if you tie in Google Authorship with your blog, your posts will start to appear in the search results.
  • Google+
    • Google reps have given talks about how Google Plus enhances search experience, as well as impacts the user’s search experience. If you are active on Google Plus, you are naturally providing Google with more data to return to your target audience. As social signals are used more and more in search results, it makes sense that Google Plus should be a focus in your SEO campaign.

These changes just reinforce the old saying that content is king. The more relevant content you deliver to your customers, the better your site will do in the search engine results. It is imperative you keep your website and/or social channels updated with what your customers want to know. All the clues are pointing towards a multifaceted approach to internet marketing, and if you are just focusing on a keyword based SEO, it may be time to start considering mixing in other options like blogging or social media.

Top 5 Reasons People Leave Your Website

There are a multitude of reasons people may leave your website, whether it be the speed, content availability, design usability, or lack of desired results. While all websites are different, there are a few constant factors to account for in order to please your users.

 

1: Slow Page Load

page-speedThis is the number one reason users abandon your website. An average user spends about three seconds waiting for a page to load before becoming hasty and abandoning your site. Besides only having a negative effect on the patience of the person, it reflects negatively on the overall brand of the company as well.

There are many ways to speed up your site, some being quick and easy, while others are more time consuming ventures. We can optimize images, compress transfer of files, minify CSS and JavaScript, and enable browser caching. These are a few of the core items that can be tweaked to enhance speed.

Two recommended tools for measuring page speeds are:

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Brand Posting on Facebook

You risk hurting your business by not taking advantage of social media. Not only are you missing an opportunity to connect with the people who spend a significant amount of their free time browsing Facebook, Twitter, or a number of other social outfits (which is a majority of them), but you are also jeopardizing SEO efforts with your website. Even if you don’t realize it, social factors are becoming more and more tied into your Google, Bing, and Yahoo rankings, and by not having a presence you are unnecessarily harming your brand.

 If your brand is new to social media, or you are thinking about venturing into this new means of advertising, you should be aware that the one-size-fits-all approach with regard to brand posting is highly inadequate. Just like other advertising avenues, you need to understand your audience and the best way to connect with them.  Once you figure out what your audience is looking for, the rest is pretty simple if you follow these general rules regarding posting. Remember, the most important thing is to stay active, posting a minimum of once or twice a week.

Post content that is of interest to your audience

You’d be amazed how many brands are just posting for the sake of posting. These brands are easy to spot, as their entire wall resembles one big billboard. Don’t get us wrong, you do want to drive sales and have related posts, but this needs to be balanced. You should typically strive for 85% useful content, and only about 15% of sales-oriented posts. How quickly do you hide ads on your Facebook page? Your fans will do the same to your page if this happens, and it will prevent them from staying engaged with your page as they will no longer see your updates.

Optimize the content for shares, likes, and comments

The news feed is prime real estate. Depending on how many other brands or friends a person has sharing content with them, your message may not even get seen. You can increase your chances of locking up a spot on the news feed by creating engaging content. The more likes, shares, or comments a post has, the more likely it is to be shown. This has a snowball effect, as Facebook also takes into account how often someone interacts with your page, as well as if their friends interact with the page also.

Ask for feedback, shares, or likes

If you’ve optimized the content for it, why not encourage the feedback? Asking questions or requesting shares or likes for your posts actually works! You can get creative with this as well. If you’re asking an either/or question, have a response tied to the share, like, or comment buttons. For example, if your post is attributing a favorite flavor of ice-cream, you could say something like, “Our chocolate fanatics share this post, those who prefer vanilla like it, and if you prefer a different flavor, let us know in the comments.”

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These are just a few of the many tips we could share with you when it comes to representing your brand on Facebook. If you have specific questions feel free to leave us a comment below, or reach out to us via our contact page. We also offer full-service  social media services for those who don’t have time or interest in managing social media, but who understand its importance.