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or "Why Users Are Leaving Your Website" Regardless of its style or category, any website's success hinges on its ease of use. According to Jakob Nielsen, an eminent usability expert, "If a website is difficult to use, people leave." A website should:
  • State plainly what it offers.
  • Be easy to navigate.
  • Be easy to read.
  • Offer answers to user's questions.
  • Load quickly and consistently on a variety of browsers and devices.
Since there is no standard on how websites should be designed, it's up to the web design agency to infer what users will expect given a client's particular content. Through experience and testing, the agency can determine the best design, all while maintaining the brand's message. A good web design agency should be spending 10% of a project's budget on usability testing. Nearly universally users assume that:
  • A link to the home page, usually in the form of a logo, is available in the upper left.
  • Pages have descriptive headers or titles announcing which page a user is on.
  • Text is legible. Printed in high contrast, appropriately sized, and carefully typeset.
  • Load times will be short, or a progress bar will indicate loading if necessary.
  • Navigation is placed near the logo, either at the top of a page or down the left side.
To aid ease of use, a designer should:
  • Avoid drop-downs or other expanding menus (with the exception of large fly-outs.)
  • Use modal windows where applicable to prevent unnecessary page changes.
  • Use breadcrumb trails make large websites easy to understand. For example, a listing on eBay for a truck wheel would include the following note near the top: "eBay Motors > Parts & Accessories > Car & Truck Parts > Wheels, Tires & Parts > Wheels"
  • Offer a search tool, preferably located in the upper right, for users to quickly navigate large sites.
  • Use style-based elements, optimized images, and minified code to reduce load times.
By designing a site with usability in mind, the user's experience with a brand is greatly improved. The user will have more confidence in the brand, and be willing to spend more time on their site, which translates into increased sales.
Google absolutely dominates over Bing, Yahoo, AOL, Ask, or any other third tier search engine. Google accounts for approximately 94% of all search engine traffic to our network of sites. Yahoo came in second with 4% of traffic, with Bing bringing up the rear at 1.5% What was interesting was that image-heavy sites like PandamicPhoto.com or AntiMatterStudio.com benefit strongly from Bing's image search engine. Bing sent more image search results to our sites than any other search engine. It is our belief that Bing has a superior image search interface and algorithm. While Bing's presence in our web stats is currently diminutive, we feel Bing has a lot of potential. For this reason, we've recently revised our SEO efforts to better target natural marketing on Bing.
The power of Firefox is in its library of add-ons. There are at least five extensions that a web developer can not live with out.
  1. FireBug "Put a wealth of development tools at your fingertips while you browse. You can edit, debug, and monitor CSS, HTML, and JavaScript live in any web page."
  2. MeasureIt "Users can calculate the measurement specifications of tables, paragraphs on internet."
  3. ColorZilla "Advanced Eyedropper, Color Picker, Palette Viewer and other colorful goodies."
  4. ScreenGrab "Save or copy the current page, viewport or selection in a png file."
  5. Load Time Analyzer "Measure and graph how long web pages take to load."
There are two major components to a web page's code. The top or Head, is the machine readable portion of the page that provides additional information called Meta tags to search engines. The rest of the page, or the body is the part seen by us humans. The importance of meta tags is often overstated when optimizing a website for search engines. As a result, there are a lot of myths regarding meta tags. Below are five important meta tags truths.
  1. Google has ignored the keywords meta tag for years. It's possible that Google could use this information in the future, but it's unlikely.
  2. The title tag is the new keywords tag. Bing and Google both consider a page's title to be its primary keywords.
  3. The description tag is often (but not always) used as the snippet shown in a search. It will not impact your ranking in Google's search results.
  4. Most new meta tags are proprietary tags used by one or two third search engines. We've even seen cases where a meta tag was invented on the spot by a developer. This is not helpful in anyway.
  5. Bing relies on geo-meta tags to determine a site's location, but Google ignores them because they're too often improperly implemented.
All of our websites include complete meta tag information because it is helpful, but we never charge our clients for keyword stuffing disguised as Search Engine Marketing. Google's Matt Cutts states that, "Lots of webmaster just copy/paste from a template without checking the meta tag values. The unreliability of the meta tags is why Google tends not to use them or give them less weight."
It is no longer good enough to just have a website to set yourself apart from your competitors. A professional design is more important than ever, but how do you choose a designer? By making the following five observations, you can choose the designer who's right for you.
  1. Proven Portfolio Any competent web design agency should have a portfolio of exemplary web sites to demonstrate what they're capable of doing. It should be freely available on their website, but if not, ask.
  2. Standards Compliance Does your website work on all major browsers? Do you know? A competent web developer is versed on the inconsistencies of various browsers and operating systems, and is able to compensate for them appropriately. Ask your agency about their "Cross-browser compatibility testing."
  3. What You See is What You Get What is the agency's website like? Often an agency's website is a strong indication of the sites they design. If you don't like their website's style, you probably won't like their proposals.
  4. Listening skills. Web design is a service industry. The client should tell the agency what they want, not the other way around. If you're web designer is pushing you to use a particular design that you're not comfortable with, it may be because it's easier for them. A good web design agency will listen to their client's needs.
  5. Price indicates skill. While you could accept the lowest bid from a student on summer break, you will likely get what you pay for. If you're serious about your business, it would be best to take advantage of an experienced web design agency.
The average website takes 4-7 weeks to complete. Afterward, your new website will need continued maintenance throughout its lifetime. For these reasons, your relationship with your web designer should be a partnership.
The goal of any design is to effectively communicate a message. Typically this means promoting a brand or selling a product.
  1. Less is more. Every element added to a design increases cognitive dissonance, meaning that it makes the site's message more difficult for the customer to find. It will take some constraint, but I promise that less is more when communicating a brand message.
  2. Color Palette Consistency of message is important and that includes colors. If you have a set of official colors, those should be the colors used in your website. Ideally those same colors will be used on every page. A constantly changing color selection implies haphazard organization, while a consistent color scheme looks professional.
  3. Typography With the huge selection of fonts freely available online, it's tempting to use a different font for every element of your design. Like your color palette, it's important to choose two or three fonts at most and stick with them throughout your marketing materials.
  4. Photos Photos are fantastic to connect with your customers, but they're also the most obvious indicator of your professionalism. A stock photo from the Web or your Uncle's point and shoot camera will immediately cheapen your brand's integrity. With photos, more than anything else, it's important to use exclusively professional photos to flatter your brand and products.
  5. Social Media Circus While social media is important, its significance is often overstated. What is important is to be accessible to your customers. Before signing up for that shiny new web2.0 service, ask yourself how it will help your business. Does it make me more accessible to my customers? Do I have to manage it daily? If you can't check a service daily, people who use it to contact you will be frustrated. Choose your social media wisely or hire a social media manager.

While we concede that Flash isn't going away immediately, we do believe that there are good reasons to not choose Flash when developing a site.

  1. About 7% of browsers do not have Flash enabled. That's an estimated 125 million people worldwide who can't see the 1 in 4 websites that use Flash.
  2. iOS is the dominant mobile browser, making up over half of that market. Since Apple refuses to implement flash, 65% of mobile browsers can't see Flash sites.
  3. While Google can read SWF files, it was built to crawl HTML, limiting Flash's organic SEO potential.
  4. Flash files are more difficult to update than traditional HTML, slowing down the frequency of content updates.
  5. Since Flash uses deprecated tags to function, it often isn't W3C valid.
  6. Flash is proprietary, paid software. The web is built on and prefers open standards.
  7. Flash breaks context and navigation menus. Back, forward, and right click don't work in Flash sites.
  8. With DHTML libraries such as jQuery and mootools, special effects are no longer limited to Flash.

It's important to give up one's tech industry ego and consider their customer's experience as their first priority.  The end user doesn't care what you did to make your website work, they only care that it works. Flash limits that experience needlessly.

For the venerable auto blog Jalopnik, we created a t-shirt:
Inspired by a quote regarding a key component of Subaru's all wheel drive system in which Sam Smith stated, "I want to put one of these things in every machine I own. Yes, even the appliances. Attention, brave little toaster: Oversteer my bagel!" In response to the overwhelming demand for these shirts, we've made them available for purchase. We even have them printed on American Apparel. A portion of the sales will be donated to Bill Caswell to benefit his racing campaign. [Jalopnik]
Which is most important in the IT world? Certifications, a degree, or experience? Regardless of your opinion, there are several very good reasons to be wary of certificates.
  1. Since certification tests are often done online, there are unscrupulous individuals who hire themselves out to take the test by proxy. The result is a legitimate and verifiable certification that no longer has any meaning.
  2. Supposedly, certifications are passed using the knowledge only experience can provide. Using an unscrupulous study guide, a test taker can readily memorize the answers, and pass the certification. This person is clearly less proficient than the worker who gained their certification through real world experience.
  3. Certificate programs are solely overseen and governed by the vendors who sell them. The same question will have a different answer depending on the vendor asking the question. They are product, meant for profit, and designed to teach a brand's marketing.
  4. Due to the sheer volume of certifications, their significance has waned. For example, Cisco and Microsoft alone have issued more than 4 million certificates.
While we would never turn an job candidate away based on certifications, we would certainly never require them.
Typefaces are important because they determine, on the most fundamental level, how easy it is to read a document. (And after all, all web pages are documents.) At the same time, typefaces determine perception. They should reflect and reinforce the mood of their content. Most importantly, your font must legible. Some fonts (like the eponymous Bleeding Cowboys) is intended specifically for logos or headings, and would be totally inappropriate for anything longer than eight words. By choosing a font that is easy on the eyes, you improve your site's usability and accessibility. The typeface that you select needs to accurately reflect the mood of your message. Always consider the audience for which the piece is intended, and then choose a font that achieves your desired perception. For example, a sans-serif modernist font like Helvetica is the font of choice for Apple because it mimics the clean industrial design their customers know and love.